Monday, April 23, 2018

The Good House

The Good House by Ann Leary    292 pages --- audiobook 10 hours

Hildy Good is one of the most successful businesswomen in the area. She's been the most successful real estate broker in her town for years. And, she knows houses better than anyone else. However, she's reached a dangerous time in her life: she's middle-aged, divorced, and she's prone to having a little too much wine a little too often.  When her two grown children stage an intervention, Hildy goes through a stay at Hazelden. However, Hildy finds that while she didn't miss alcohol too much, she's slipping into the habit again. After all, she's been involved in some of the bigger recent real estate deals in her town, including selling a huge house to Rebecca and her husband.

While this story starts out as somewhat light and amusing, it starts to feel like there are shadows at the edge as the story progresses. Hildy knows a lot about most of the people in town, and it starts to become clear that she's supporting not only some of their self-deceptions, but some self-deceptions of her own. Soon, her own secrets are intertwined with the secrets of her others and as her drinking starts to increase, you can feel that something awful is going to happen.  Soon.

I really enjoyed this audiobook read by Mary Beth Hurt. She's a wonderful actress and the book just came alive. Hildy is a very realistic character --- which means that sometimes, I enjoyed her, and sometimes I plain out didn't like her at all. However, I did like this audiobook and would look for another read by this actress.

Girl Unknown

Girl Unknown by Karen Perry.   293 pages

When first-year college student Zoe Barry walks into Professor David Connolly's office, David thinks she's there about an assignment. Instead, she says, "I think you might be my father."  And then everything changes.

David is left reeling, but it's David's wife, Caroline, and his two children whose lives are completely turned upside down. And just who is Zoe? Is she really David's daughter?  She's definitely hiding something, especially since she acts one way with David and completely differently with Caroline, and it seems obvious that she's turning husband and wife against each other. It's also obvious that Zoe is smart and has something in store for David and his family.  As David and Caroline try to learn more about Zoe, welcoming her into their family (like a cuckoo into a nest), Zoe's stories start to ring less and less true. And as Zoe becomes more entangled in the family, it becomes clear that now David's two other children may be in danger.

While I felt I could anticipate some elements of this story, I still found this a compulsive page-turner of a book. Zoe is such a clever, nasty piece of work -- it's so clear that she's up to no good (perhaps she's a kind of sociopath), but you don't know what her true motivations are, and what her end game is. Watching David's relationship with Caroline start to fray and unravel is like watching an accident about to happen; you know what's happening, but you watch anyway (wondering just how bad the end result will be).

This book was a suggestion from a colleague -- and I'm very grateful. This was a good read!!

The Trauma Cleaner

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster
by Sarah Krasnostein    336 pages

"Husband, father, drag queen, sex worker, wife. You've got to hear Sandra's incredible story."

This is definitely an interesting story. The author makes it clear at the beginning that although she is writing about Sandra's life, that Sandra doesn't have a good memory, so some of the details of her life aren't clear (or are missing entirely).  The blurb about this book says "Sarah Krasnostein's The Trauma Cleaner is a love letter to an extraordinary ordinary life. In Sandra Pankhurst she discovered a woman capable of taking a lifetime of hostility and transphobic abuse and using it to care for some of society's most in-need people."

While parts of this book are hard to read, I still found it to be unlike any other biography I've read. Sandra has had a very difficult life and some of the details of her childhood and then what she needed to do to survive as an adult make for some pretty sad reading, it's clear that Sandra doesn't get bogged down in sadness. Instead, she is always looking forward, always looking to make the best of a situation.  Her compassion towards her clients is truly remarkable --- I found myself thinking that it takes an extraordinary person to be a trauma cleaner.  And by the way, "trauma" does sometimes mean cleaning after a death, but it can also mean cleaning for someone who is living in a hoarding situation. 

Not a book for everyone, but definitely interesting. 

DIY Rules for a WTF World

DIY Rules for a WTF World: How to Speak Up, Get Creative, and Change the World by Krista Suh       Audio Book: 4 hours, 52 mins     Hardback Book:  256 pages         

Krista Suh has a very likeable style of writing.   She really brings the reader in as she discusses her life in Hollywood as a screenwriter, growing up as a Chinese-Korean-American, how she became a political activist and her position as a feminist fighting for women world-wide to have a voice.    A staunch Hillary Clinton supporter and devastated when Hillary lost the election, Krista Suh decided to use her other passion – performance art -to start a movement of women marching on Washington.    After remarks made by Donald Trump stating how being a celebrity he could do anything he wanted to a woman and get away with it even grabbing her…I think you know the missing word here.   Krista Suh wanted something big and dramatic to scream womens’ solidarity in a social movement to raise awareness of womens’ issues and advancing human rights by promoting dialogue in an innovative, in your face kind of way through political resistance via performance art – her specialty.    So, Krista started the Pussyhat Project.   She envisioned a sea of pink - a million women from all over the world – marching together on Washington all wearing pink had knitted, woven, crocheted, sewn – however any woman wanted to create it but for all of them to be wearing a shade of pink hand-made hat with pussy cat ears or as some women and some LBTGQ, etc.  chose to go full-on pink vajayjay hats but Krista got her dream come-true.   Overhead visuals did show a sea of pink in the crowd in the D.C. mall.    What started as an idea shared went viral and participants arrived from all parts of the globe to protest the Donald’s derogatory statements regardimg women turning to a protest of his election.    She brings to light the many ways in life people can make things happen by starting with a desire to do something then allow it to be don’t shut yourself down because what you want might seem impossible – believe and make it happen.   She talks about being shy but finding her voice and offers many exercises throughout the book on how to find not just your voice by learning to speak up, learning to say no when you want to instead of beating yourself up for saying yes to everything because you think it is expected, how to find your many creative skills and how to learn what they are even if you don’t already know and how to use them to be the change you want to see in the world.    Good book, I really enjoyed hearing her views and the things she has done in her life so far.   The exercises she offers are not only fun but thought provoking and you might find some new realizations about yourself and the skillset you have you might not even know about.   Well done, Krista Suh.

Soulful Simplicity

Soulful Simplicity: How Living With Less Can Lead to So Much More by Courtney Carver        Hardback Book:  234 pages               

Good book.   When Courtney Carver discovered she had Multiple Sclerosis on top of her busy, stressful,  mountain sized financial debt  after recovering from the shock she knew she had to make some drastic changes to her overburdened  life  if she wanted to survive and spend all the time she possibly could with the dearest love of her life, her daughter.    She began to log her emotions finding that any time she let her worries  take over it kicked her into a stress induced deep depression which would then in turn affect her health and drop her to her knees for days at a time.    Life was not working out well for her so she started sorting her life into categories and strategicially finding solutions that would work for her to lighten her load of troubles both physically and mentally.   She began to see all the hours she was putting in at work weren’t serving her.   She thought she was working so many hours to be able to get more money so that she could buy more and do more for and with her daughter, but, when that AHA moment came, it became glaringly clear that she was working more and being so tired she was snapping at her daughter and husband, she was feeling put upon because she worked then came home and worked and wasn’t getting any help = more stress = debilitating pain and suffereing = no time to be with her family.    Her daughter told her she liked the stuff but what she wanted was time with her Mom, going for walks, visiting musuems, etc. together and enjoying chatting and telling each other what was going on in their lives.   All of it together was Courtney’s wake-up call.   What she thought she was doing for all the right reasons turned out she was wrong.   She was killing herself to make her family happy and they weren’t happy because she was killing herself.   It all had to give.   She realized she needed a little soulful simplicity.  Instead of taking everything so seriously and being a workaholic, she needed to call down, breath and stop making things so hard on herself and in turn others.    First, she started gettiog more help around the house, then she began to see all the stuff she had been carrying around from house to house, boxes she never opened, clothes in her closets that didn’t fit, needed repair or she just plain didn’t like anymore so she had to sort through the no way stuff to get to the clothes she actually liked and pretty much wore most of the time.   She came up with an idea for her wardrobe.   In any season, all total there were about 33 things she wore including handbags, shoes and jewelry.    So from that idea she pared down her wardrobe, keeping only 33 things total per season out in her closet so that every outfit was something she liked, and everything could be inter-changed to create different outfits.   Everything unwanted, unloved and still in boxes from previous moves was donated.   Some boxes  she didn’t even open, just taped up and donated to Goodwill.   To get her finances in order, she read Dave Ramsey’s books on financial planning that she heard about at church.   First she saved until she had a $1,000 emergency fund per Dave’s instruction, although it was hard, she felt like she should be paying what she was saving on bills first then save but after it was done and something came up that was an emergency fix and she had that fund to fall back on –she saw the wisdom in Dave’s plan.     One by one she paid off her bills from the lowest balance to the highest and prior to that she cut up every single charge card that their family had together or separately along with her husband, even though it was a big step out of faith to do so.  Finally within a few years, they were debt free, clutter free and happier than they had ever been.    A good book with a lot of thought and heart (literally) put into it.     The on-going theme throughout the book is when you don’t know which way to go or what decision to make – Cortney says to stop take some quiet time for yourself and literally put your hands over your heart until you can feel your heartbeat.   Then ask your heart the questions that are hounding you.   She says your heart knows the right answer and will tell you just take some meditative time to hold your heart and ask your questions.   The answers will come from God, from your subconscious, from whatever higher power you believe in and you can trust that the answers will be what you need to do.     Good book.   I would recommend this book to anyone who is going through an overwhelming time in their life – there are many good options to be found here, Courtney is a good mentor. 


Daphne by Will Boast          Audio Book  7 hours,  30 mins.         Hardback Book:  288 pages                    s

An excellently told story and great first novel by author Will Boast.     His lead character, Daphne, suffers from a disease that causes her body to paralyze and brings unconsciousness with it whenever she goes into emotional overload.    Right at the get go you know this is going to be an interesting story.   Then to top it off she works in a lab that does animal testing on dogs.   During the story, the testing that is being done on the dogs in the lab are coronary procedures.   They induce heart attacks/srokes in the dogs then do experimental procedures to bring them back over and over until the animals actually die from all the trauma their bodies undergo.   There are animal rights protestors outside the lab and Daphne and one of her lab interns, Stacey each deal with the guilt over what they are doing to the poor animls even though Daphne excuses the procedures in her mind by acknowledging the procedural findings they are bringing to light in coronary patient healthcare.   Daphne’s life is full of ups and downs in dealing with her past – her mother was distant and an alcoholic, her father was “handsy” in inappropriate ways to her and to her friends, then when her disease started showing up and she is thought to have multiple sclerosis then finally cataplexy.   She loses a lot of lovers when overcome in the moment -she collapses in a death-like state.    The first time it happened the guy thought he was too much for her and had killed her.    After trying to go more slowly later but having the same effect, she shies away from romance for a long time.   She has one great friend who loves to drink and pass around her business cards who is very supportive of Daphne.   Daphne also attends a group session every week of people who suffer from the same disease she does.    There are lots of things going on in the story and Daphne is such a likeable character you really feel for her and all she is going through and have to admire the resilency in her character that keeps her moving forward.    Excellent book.  I would recommend it to anyone who likes fiction.

This Messy Magnificent Life:

This Messy Magnificent Life: A Field Guide by Geneen Roth      Audio Book:  4 hours, 19 mins.    Hardback Book:  223 pages                 

The first ¾ of this book was like delving into someone’s inner thoughts who is so totally depressed you can feel their despair.   It was really hard for me to wade through most of this book, because all I could get out of it was how burnt out the writer seemed to be.   It’s like she is spent, she has told these stories so often now, she can’t work up any real compassion to continue giving of herself.    It definitely comes across she is needy and requiring her therapist’s help more at this point in her life.    Everything she says during the first part of the book seems like verbal vomiting.    She is regurgitating things she has said so often that she is tired of hearing herself say them.    To be fair she tells a lot of stories about people she has helped over the years, she talks about her own  past and how horrible her life was at home and the things she has tried over the years to heal the hurt that doesn’t go away, so, it is understandable when you come to the last quarter of the book maybe where she was going or at least where her summations arrive in the later chapters.    The last quarter of the book make up for the incredibly depressing first three quarters but it honestly was a big struggle to get there.   I kept on with her story because I knew there had to be a point to it, and, I was determined to push on to find it.   If you have ever watched a film that is so bad you want to turn it off or leave the theater but, feel committed to try to seek something worthwhile in it that was my feeling with this book.    I felt like I was listening to someone who has overmedicated themselves go on and on talking covering many topics but not really making a point from any of the talking they are doing.    I was glad to get to the summation (at last) and honestly she brings up a lot of good things throughout, it is just that you feel like you want to say, “and then?” but by that time she has drifted off sort of leaving the thought dangling in space or she completely moves on to another topic entirely not completing that train of thought either before drifting off again.   Like I said the first three quarters of this book was agony to get through for me, it was like a rehash of something she had said before and she was so bored from talking about it so often or else she was so out of it that she couldn’t keep on topic herself.   Clarity won out in the last quarter and it is as if she had a strong cup of coffee and began to speak clearer and stayed the course to the end.   I wouldn’t recommend this one, personally. 

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta  Magnusson                     Audio Book:  2 hours,  37 mins.      Hardback Book:  128 pages                 

What an interesting take on de-cluttering.   Something everyone should consider at some point in their life – going through your living space and sorting, organizing and decluttering so that at your demise, someone else doesn’t get stuck with a big job of clearing your house out with no idea what your wishes for your things might be and so they aren’t stuck with floor to ceiling clutter that is thrust upon them while they are either mourning your passing or cursing your soul for leaving them with a boat load of cleanup chores and trash to clear out of your house.   When I saw the title of this book, I had to read it and it is a pleasant book not a dark one.   It is a very real issue that is addressed with class, care and realistic tips.       The author has done death cleaning a few times in her life, after both of her parents’ passings ., after her husband’s death after a prolonged illness and then after her mother-in-law’s death.    It gave her the idea that she should go through her own things since she was 78 at the time.    Why put that chore off on someone else?   Decide which of your possessions you really use and really want, which ones are really just taking up space that you keep passing over or ignoring their presence  until the day someone else is forced to deal with the accumulation of your piles of your lifetime of stuff.     There are photos and gifts you received whether you like them or not, there are clothes you wear and those you don’t but you didn’t return them so they are just there.    She laughs remembering when her mother died finding hidden among a pile of clean sheets at the back of a linen cupboard a pack of cigarettes.   Her mother’s guilty secret that no one in the house ever knew about – her mother was a closet smoker!   Her father was very against smoking so her mother had to hide it.   The author also has a chapter on dealing with possessions you might not want someone else to discover in your home after your death – she lists some hilarious things that folks would definetly die of embarrassment if someone else found if they weren’t already dead.   I would disclose the items mentioned, but, this is a family blog so I will leave that to your imaginiation until you read the book for yourself.    She offers suggestions on what to do with your things now and to let others know about it, either discuss it with them, email them if you feel its too hard to openly talk about, but do put your wishes in writing so folks know your preference whether Aunt Susie gets the china or if you have earmarked it to go to your granddaughter.     The author suggests downsizing your things and your house to make life easier for yourself as you get older.   She personally went from a 3 bedroom house to a 2 room apartment and she is in her 80s.     She gave carte blanche to her kids first to come and take their pick of the stuff she could do without then donated, sold or tossed in the trash the things they did not want.     She took only what she needed to get by in her remaining years and just a few loved items and finds life so much simpler not having all those esxtra rooms to clean or dishes to wash, etc.    At one time she had a complete dinner service for 16 people but now she only has room for 6 at her table so that is all the plates, cups, glasses, silverware etc. she keeps.     Much of the furniture and gardening tools that were in the shed in her yard the new owners of her house asked for, so, that saved her trying to get rid of the leftover furniture, etc. her kids did not want as they are all grown with their own grandchildren, so, all the stuff no one in the family wanted that wasn’t sold or donated became the property of the new owners of her house.   She also adds that when you give something away release it.   It now becomes the sole property of the person you gave it to and when they no longer want or need it they are free to pass it on to whomever they choose or dispose of it as they choose – don’t hold on to property rights once you release a thing to someone else.   Relinquish ownership.    It is a very good book I am so happy I read it.    I highly recommend this book to everyone.    A good wake up call to go through our things now so our wishes for our property can be realized not to mention doing a kindness for those left behind to clean up after us once we are gone from this life.    Truly no one is promised tomorrow – so do your (death) cleaning today and be ahead of the game – stop sibling squabbles ( I want that, no, I want that!),  where are all the insurance papers?  (Make a file – in the event of my death – here are the important papers you need, here are bank account numbers, etc.)     So many great ideas here that we often tend to not think about until we have to then it is utter chaos because we didn’t take the time to have the discussions and find out what we needed to know beforehand.    Excellent book.    

Ty Cobb

Ty CobbTy Cobb: A Terrible Beauty by Charles Leerhsen, 404 pages

Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with baseball history knows Ty Cobb.  Although some of his career records have been surpassed in the century since he retired - stolen bases by Lou Brock in 1977, hits by Pete Rose in 1985, runs by Rickey Henderson in 2001 - he continues to hold the records for highest career batting average and most times stealing home, neither of which is likely to fall barring major structural changes to the game itself.  Not only was he one of the best players of all time, Cobb was baseball's biggest star as the sport transitioned from being a somewhat disreputable entertainment into the national pastime.  When the Baseball Hall of Fame was established in 1936, he finished first in the balloting, beating out even Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Walter Johnson.

Cobb's fame, however, has long been eclipsed by his notoriety.  Everyone knows that Cobb was prone to murderous rages - it's said he once beat a man to death with a baseball bat, then used the same bat to hit a home run the next day.  Everyone knows he was a virulent racist - it's said he would pistol whip black men who dared presume to share the same sidewalk with him.  Everyone knows he reveled in slicing up other players with his cleats while sliding into base - it's said he would ostentatiously sharpen his spikes before and during games.

Except, as Charles Leerhsen documents, little of this is true.  Cobb was indeed a violent man, but less so than many ballplayers in an era when at least one umpire carried a knife under his uniform for personal protection, and he was certainly no psychopath.  While he had many attitudes typical of a Southerner during the reign of Jim Crow, in 1952 - a time when many Southern ballplayers like Enos Slaughter were outspoken opponents of integration - he declared that "the Negro should be accepted and not grudgingly but wholeheartedly."  Despite using mind games, trickery, and intimidation to give him an edge on the field, Cobb was generally well liked, with an unpredictable generosity that often surprised the recipient - indeed, he financially supported several of his former teammates in their later years.

As Leerhsen tells it, Cobb was "a relentless finder of fists that he could jam his chin against", 
but was also a surprisingly sensitive man familiar with trial and tragedy, who pursued a career in baseball at a time when that was akin to joining the circus, whose father (a Georgia state senator) was shot and killed by his mother under mysterious circumstances, who was bullied so mercilessly by his teammates during his second year in the majors that he suffered a nervous breakdown, who ultimately learned not only to live with but to thrive on adversity, producing the kind of sustained excellence that is the hallmark of baseball greatness.  

Meanwhile, how the myth of Ty Cobb as monster - "Jack the Ripper in baseball flannels" - became universally accepted is a story almost as interesting as his life, a combination of folklore, rumor, and exaggeration, fed by the ambition and greed of sportswriter Al Stump, who co-wrote Cobb's autobiography, then, in one of the greatest acts of character assassination in history, spent decades inventing scandalous stories to sell to a credulous public.

The Winter People, Jennifer McMahon, 317 pages

Sara Harrison Shea grew up hearing Auntie’s tales of the sleepers, the risen undead, but after her father killed Auntie for a witch and burned her little cabin to the ground, she put them out of her mind. However, when her precious daughter Gertie falls into a well, she remembers what Auntie taught her, and prepares to do the unthinkable. A hundred years later, teenage Ruthie and her six-year-old sister Fawn live in the old Shea farmhouse, now an off-the-grid homestead. Their mother has gone missing, and in their search for her, they stumble across a copy of Sara’s diary. But others are looking for the secrets of the sleepers, and as their paths converge, the past will come back to haunt them.

This was a very spooky read! It’s been a while since I’ve read a horror novel, and The Winter People delivered. The rock formation The Devil’s Hand was creepily atmospheric, and I thought the ending was quite good. I didn’t notice this while reading, but almost all the major characters are women, which is neat. I’d definitely recommend this to someone who likes horror.

Princeless: Raven, the Pirate Princess vol III

A member of Raven’s crew has been gravely injured in the struggle against her brothers, and the crew flees to find a healer. Crewmembers tell stories of romance to keep each other company, and Raven attempts to persuade the healer to help a pirate.

What a great series. Romance begins to develop, and more awesome women join the cast. I really liked the part where Raven stops beating up a guard to help her with an asthma attack. A worthy follow-up to the earlier books.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Princeless: Raven, the Pirate Princess vol II

Bent on justice, Raven finally has a crew for her ship, but now she needs a heading! They set sail for the Island of Free Women in hopes of finding where her evil brothers have hidden themselves, but there’s trouble brewing no one could expect. And worst of all, the crew has to deal with each other!

This is a great continuation of the first volume. There’s action, adventure, hints of romance, and plenty of nasty men getting gloriously beaten up. Definitely a solid read.

Tom's Midnight Garden

Tom’s Midnight Garden, Edith, 94 pages

In this graphic novel adaptation of the book by Philippa Pearce, Tom has been shipped off to his aunt and uncle’s house to hopefully avoid catching measles from his younger brother. At first, he is excruciatingly bored – he’s in quarantine, so he can’t go out, and the mysterious landlady allegedly dislikes children, so he must stay quiet. But at night, the old clock in the hall chimes thirteen, and Tom creeps downstairs and out the back door, to a beautiful garden that isn’t there in the daytime, and a girl named Hatty from long ago, his new friend.

A beautiful, atmospheric graphic novel about time and memory. There’s never any explanation given for how or why Tom travels back in time to the garden, and the book would suffer if there were. The art is gorgeous, lush and expressive. This is a must-read for anyone who likes graphic novels.

Liturgy & Personality

Image result for Liturgy and Personality Von Hildebrand, DietrichLiturgy & Personality by Dietrich von Hildebrand, 130 pages

Dietrich von Hildebrand identifies the Divine Liturgy as the worship and adoration offered by the Body of Christ, united with its Head - "through Him, with Him, and in Him" - to the Triune Godhead.  As such, it forms the supreme instance of value-response, and it is in the light of this that all of our relationships with values ought to be measured.  The liturgy, he therefore maintains, provides the ultimate opportunity for the imitation of (and transformation in) Christ, but only if it is properly understood in terms of value-response as an end in itself.  The liturgy cannot be reduced to a mere technique for self-improvement, and yet it provides the most thorough education in the disciplines necessary to the development of an authentic personality - discrimination and sacrifice.

Although he was capable of writing for a broader audience, here Hildebrand wrote like the German philosopher he was.  Although not entirely opaque, the short book is certainly challenging, but the rewards of understanding are well worth the effort.

The Silver Witch

The Silver Witch, Paula Brackston, 308 pages

Tilda Fordwells has just moved to the Welsh lakeside cottage of her dreams, but her husband Mat isn’t there to share it with her – he recently died in a car accident. She lives there peacefully, running every day, rescuing a hound, dealing with her fritzy electricity, and creating ceramic art. But as an archaeological dig by the lake progresses, Tilda realizes she can do magic – and an evil force from a thousand years ago is beginning to stir.

I was disappointed by this book. The pacing was not great, and the flashback chapters (to the pre-medieval Celtic settlement in the location, where a witch deals with political intrigue) felt not fleshed out, like they were there merely to buttress the main plot. I never got a real sense of place from the book, which is surprising because the author is actually from the area it’s set in. I was hoping for something more like Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising series, which is deeply rooted in British folklore, but The Silver Witch never quite reaches the peak it attains to.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Death of Lake Michigan

Death on Lake Michigan by Steven Arnett  224 pages 
I must admit, that when I agreed to read this book, I didn’t realize that it was the same author who penned “The Summer of Robert Byron.” That book was in desperate need of an editor.

I am happy to report that this mystery novel is much, much, much better, although the title could use some creativity.

It’s the summer of 1973. Reporter Mike O’Brien is sent to cover the story of a body washed ashore on the shore of Lake Michigan, a resort town.  The body is easily identified as that of a local drug dealer named Rich Mallon. And while the identification is easy, the cause of death also easy, the motive fairly obvious, but who did it is quite the mystery.

Mike becomes obsessed with finding Rich’s killer, although it seems that he didn’t think much of Rich while he as life.  The murder gets Mike’s blood roiling, much like it did when he as a star reporter and crusader for the Michigan State News when he as in college.

The writing is much, much better the “The Summer of Robert Bryon.” There isn’t as much poor grammar and syntax, although it does creep up from time to time. It was an easy read and quite satisfactory as a murder mystery. The back over claims it’s a bit of a romance too, but I had to look hard for that. Therefore, Death on Lake Michigan receives 4 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.

The Cozies: The Legend of Operation Moonlight

The Cozies: The Legend of Operation Moonlight by T. L. Fisher  196 pages

This delightful little story is narrated by quite a mixture of a creature with the head of an English lop rabbit. At five inches tall, Thursby, is elegantly dressed in “a green cutaway coat, a blue waistcoat, a white shirt and neckcloth, and charcoal-gray trousers.”

As the tale opens, Thursby welcomes an unseen audience in a lecture hall. He is there to tell about a Cozies grand adventure that happened a long time ago. Cozies are figments of the imagination, specifically nursery figments.

The Cozies in the nursery watch over the baby Bingo. Thursby is joined by quite an intersting cast: Musetta, the actress; Gubbins, who ‘resembles what might happen if two pocket watches collide and the bits and pieces came down in the shape of” a person about as tall as Thursby, Rumple, who looks like a giant squishable toy with a translucent baby-blue body, and the Twins, “round-faced girls no bigger than a man’s thumb each with pretty but ineffectual little wings.”

Life goes along as normal until one day a new nanny arrives. She’s not nearly as affable as the previous nanny, and the Cozies start to worry when she starts to whisper with a big lout, one who comes in through the second-story window.

Then the nanny and the lout kidnap Bingo and it’s up to the Cozies to find him and get him back home, safe and sound. Their journey is whimsical and imaginative, a fun adventure for reader of all ages.

Its story-within-a story is charming and delightful. I hope T. L. writes more adventures with these characters. The Cozies: The Legend of Operation Moonlight receives 5 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Blue diary

Blue Diary by Alice Hoffman   303 pages

Ethan Ford is the best husband a woman could have. Sensitive, thoughtful and head-over-heels in love with his wife, Jorie, Ethan's also known in town to be a trustworthy, hardworking man. However, all of that faith in Ethan is shaken when the unthinkable happens: Ethan is accused of a crime from the past and also is accused of stealing another man's identity.  So just who is Ethan Ford?

This book explores several themes, including friendship, love, marriage, and how people can confront truths and try to find forgiveness in some of the most unforgiving of circumstances. Deftly told through multiple viewpoints, this story unwinds slowly, revealing many secrets. Of course, the worst secret of them all is the one that Ethan Ford has been hiding all of these years, locking away not only the secret, but his true nature, as well.  This is a compelling story, and one I've read many times -- and enjoyed again. I had remembered parts of the story but not the entire thing, so there was some re-discovery of the book along the way.


Wonder by R. J. Palacio                      Audio Book:  8 hours, 6 mins           Hardback Book:  312 pages              

Great book.   Great story.    I saw the film first and was lucky enough to come across the book it was based on.   Auguste Pullman is a ten-year old who was born with mandibulofacial dysotosis, Treacher Collins Syndrome,  which is a distortion of the location and shape of the facial features.   Auguste or “Auggie” as his Dad calls him in reference to the son in the Huckleberry Hound cartoons, has had 27 different surgeries by the time he is 10 years old and even though some of that was reconstructive plastic surgery – according to the description of his features discussed at times lets the reader know his facial features must be similar to an extremely intensely burned victim.    At one time it is said he looks like his face has melted.     Auggie’s parents home-schooled him up until this time due to all of his surgeries and the sickness and trials that he went through after them.   Now, Auggie will be in the 5th grade and his mother feels he has reached the limit of what she can teach him so the parents discuss it and decide to enter Auggie in a small private school.    He freaks out, but, ends up going along with the program.    He loves Science and his parents have surreptitiously checked out the school and saw the terrific Science lab they have there.    They sell it to Auggie finally on the Science note.    Life at school that year was not always fun and he was ostracized at first, no one would sit with him they didn’t want to get “the plague” as they called it.   But that soon was a thing of the past when a girl named Summer befriends him.  Much happens along the way and bullying occurs, there are side stories involving his sister and also friend and family relationships.     Excellent story – I enjoyed this book very much and I highly recommend it for people of all ages.    An in-depth experience of walking in the other person’s shoes and seeing both sides of issues.  Really, really good.   Another one of those books you don’t want to put down till you finish it.  

Political Tribes

Political Tribes:  Group Instinct and the Fate of Nations by Amy Chua         Audio Book: 7 hours    Paperback Book:  464 pages             

This book blew me away.    Another author I would like to do that Vulcan Mind Meld with.   Man!   Amy Chua knows not just the background histories on countries around the world which gives one an inkling to their culture,  she goes deeper into the various sectors within the societies and in some cases the tribal backgrounds and sects, not just historically or geologically but also with their various belief systems which can be numerous all within the boundaries of each country.     Never have I read such in-depth knowledge of groups of peoples within the geographical boundaries of a country.    As if using a high-powered microscope to see every bit of DNA chromosomes within the body of what is each culture and each belief system.      Amy Chua breaks down into layman’s language highly involved  discourse on both what the U.S. went into foreign lands thinking (whether as allies or as liberators) and the many different veins of groups that either felt assuaged or assaulted by American presence there.    It is so eye-opening.    She gives you so much information from behind the scenes, giving one pause to think how little that is often understood before the United States enters another land.    I was both floored and enlightened.    Many questions are answered here especially good intel on why so many countries and peoples hate Americans today.   Fascinating book.    I couldn’t put it down.    No blanket approach will do across the board and Ms. Chua explains it in understandable terminology throughout.    EXCELLENT BOOK.    This book should be in every school and also in every college and university curriculum.     It would do much to broaden global understanding.

Pacific Edge

Pacific Edge, Kim Stanley Robinson, 326 pages

The world has changed to a system focused on small-scale politics, renewable energy, and community-based living. In the small village of El Modena, carpenter and homebuilder Kevin Claiborne has just joined the city council, only to discover that the mayor is attempting to sneak through legislation that strengthens big business and risks exploiting the last undeveloped hilltop in town.

This is what I had been hoping for when I began reading the Three Californias triptych. Robinson envisions a world as close to utopia as possible, where humanity lives in harmony with nature instead of in opposition to it. My favorite part was where the town watches two tall ships come in to port, racing to be the first into the harbor, just like in the golden age of clipper ships (for in this future, the shipping industry has converted back to sail power, as indeed seems likely in our own), though I was frustrated by the lack of research put into other aspects of ship life (a specific quibble of mine, as I was a professional tall ship sailor for two years; this would probably not bother a layperson). There are parts of this trilogy that are very obviously written by a man – did Robinson need to spend as much time describing women’s bodies as he did? This stuck out to me most in Pacific Edge, because I really liked the rest of this book. If you’re interested in environmentalism and want to envision a hopeful future for the human race, this is a book for you.

Poppa John

Image result for Poppa John Woiwode, LarryPoppa John by Larry Woiwode, 204 pages

Among the few people left who still call him Ned are his psychiatrist, whom he hasn't seen recently, since money became tight, and his agent, whom he hasn't heard from recently, resulting in money becoming tight.  Virtually everyone else, from the man on the street to his wife, knows him as Poppa John, the character he played for years on one of America's most popular soaps.  "Played" being the operative word - Poppa John, the character, grandfatherly dispenser of spiritual wisdom instantly recognizable to millions by his trademark wave, was killed off.  While the death of Poppa John was a ratings bonanza, it has proved to be a professional and personal disaster for the man who played him for so long and now must, somehow, remember how not to.  Most of the novel takes place over the course of a single day, a few days before Christmas, as the main character attempts to find a gift for his wife but spends most of his time stumbling between bars, tormented by ghosts of the past, present, and future.

Poppa John is a novel of internal struggle.  As such, it is not a very exciting book.  It is, however, very interesting.

The Gold Coast

The Gold Coast, Kim Stanley Robinson, 389 pages

Part two of the Three Californias triptych, this standalone novel takes place in a future California, just as The Wild Shore does, but this California is a high-tech, concrete, capitalist cityscape, where the Cold War is still going strong (the book was published in 1988 and it shows on occasion). Jim McPherson’s father is an engineer for the military industrial complex, struggling to complete weapons systems with impossible constraints and deadlines, and Jim longs for revolutionary action or anything to put some meaning in his life.

Having read all of the Three Californias, I can firmly say that this one is my least favorite. It’s depressing in its depiction of urbanization (deliberately so, presumably), and its attempt at hopefulness falls flat except as a precursor to Pacific Edge, part three of the triptych. Government bureaucracy and the forces of industry feel inescapable, and the most anyone succeeds in doing is hiking in the distant countryside. If you’re feeling trapped and let down by current events, this is not the book for you. Skip to Pacific Edge for a much more hopeful look at a possible future.

Vengeance Road

Vengeance Road, Erin Bowman, 327 pages

Kate Thompson’s father has been murdered by the notorious gang of outlaws the Rose Riders, and she is determined to get her revenge, no matter the cost. But she finds mentions of a lost cache of gold in her father’s diary, and her quest for vengeance risks becoming sidetracked by gold fever.

I’m not sure I liked this one. For a book with a protagonist as single-mindedly focused on vengeance as Kate is supposed to be, Vengeance Road meanders quite a bit and ends up feeling like a cautionary tale on the risks of greed. The action scenes felt flat, and although it seems Bowman tried to avoid tired, racist tropes when dealing with the Apache who live nearby, I’m not sure she succeeded, which is of course always a risk when writing a Western. The romance felt uninspired as well, until the end when it redeemed itself somewhat. I’ve heard good things about the standalone sequel, RetributionRails, but I’m not sure if I feel like giving it a try.