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Random words, pictures and thoughts of one who always wishes to be on the mind's road to discovery!

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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lassie or Rinty? Lassie was Fiction--Rinty was Real!

Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the LegendRin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ah Rusty and Rinty--yes, pals of my childhood--and the reason I was thrilled to win this book in a Goodreads firstreads giveaway. The story was interesting and well-written but about halfway through--around the time the TV show which most of us remember was taking off--I started to get bored. The information about Lee Duncan, the man who found the original Rin Tin Tin in France towards the end of WWI, became repetitive and boring. But then, the story of the dog was no longer the story of just one dog and in many ways not even the story of the Real Rinty.

Orlean does a fine job of describing the changing times in America from the euphoria and youth of a country just over a major war, through a depression, the transition from silent films to talkies to TV to whatever our entertainment forms are today. What left me at a loss was any real depth in the description of Lee Duncan and his life. What was his personality like--other than self-effacing and obsessed with a dog and its legacy? Who were his friends? How in heavens name did his wife, Eva, ever meet much less become such good friends with Helen Reddy that she, as a new widow, travelled the world with her? There is more information about Bert, the man behind the TV program, and Daphne, a Texas woman who apparently still breeds Rinty descendents, than about the man who started the whole legend by rescuing an orphaned French puppy.

I finished the book with a sense that, though it is almost 300 pages long, there are many, many loose ends. And though Orlean feels that she, too, has become part of the obsessive movement to assure that there is always a Rin Tin Tin, my feeling is that, unless Disney or some other major studio makes a new successful series of movies with the beloved character, Rin Tin Tin will go the way of StrongHeart--remembered by baby boomers but will die with them. Sad but the way of the world.

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Friday, July 29, 2011

A Cure to Die For--- A Bit of a Stretch

A Cure to Die For: A Medical ThrillerA Cure to Die For: A Medical Thriller by Stephen G. Mitchell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Being a pre-med student and a retired biology teacher the premise of this book really caught my interest. It was enjoyable because the characters were somewhat interesting and the locales, especially the Navajo Nation were familiar to me. There was alot of action what with the kidnappings and police and/or DEA raids and the various forays into the snowy Montana mountains or across the Midwest at night. There are three main characters who acquire others as the story moves along--some stay for the duration, some are ships passing in the night.

The idea of a cure-all drug was rather fascinating--especially since it is the product of a cannabis hybrid. What is the author trying to say here, I wonder? The fact that the pharmaceutical industry and the government would try to destroy it and the research that produced it is ludicrous. For we find that the drug is not really a cure as such but a substance that sends all sorts of disease into remission and without it the patient is lost once more. I just bet the drug companies would like to see that stamped out rather than fight to get the patent that would allow one of them to corner the market and charge an exhorbitant price for the prescription to say nothing of the taxes the government could levy on the manufacture of such a miracle drug.

And my science self had a real problem with the lack of testing to determine the true efficacy of the drug and to ascertain what the lengthy warnings of side effects would be to the patient.

If logic, then, can be suspended for a time this book is a good read with many twists and turns---not a thriller, not a mystery but surely an adventure. I don't think I'll ever drive by fields thick with high corn in Iowa again without wondering if there are other crops secretly planted between the rows--a take off on the three sisters. Nor will I venture into Window Rock again and park near the Council House without wondering if a Grow is being considered somewhere out in the far reaches of the Reservation.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

State of Mind

If age is just a state of mind then I am around 2000 years old today. Fell, avoiding the cat on the stairs last night, and figured my ankle was sprained. When I tried to get up from the floor I was totally unable to do it. Thank goodness for Bill--was able to winch me up and I went to bed and slept fine. This morning the pain in the ankle was unbearable and the 90+ heat was setting in. I needed Bill to help me up out of bed--incredibly painful and even help me get off the throne--exceedingly mortifying. God, am I so old already? Horribly scary to realize that I could have been stranded on the floor all day or the bathroom waiting for him to come home to help! What if I lived alone?

I hate taking medicine but knowing I HAD to get to the hospital to get an xray, which entailed going down the back stairs and getting out of the car twice, I gulped down two Advil. In about a half hour the pain subsided enough that I could get up and down alone and walk without yelping out loud. Were at the hospital by 930,where I walked until going to xray which was far off--so I took the offer of the wheelchair this time. I could feel the bones moving the way they do when you crack your knuckles. By 1030 I was waiting for the results of the xray. I knew it was broken but Bill thought it was just a bad sprain. Doc came into the room and said " Well, you did it!" I said " Broken?" He shook his head yes and I said" fibula?" and he said " yup the distal end" I knew it. So they put a flimsy air cast on, gave me crutches,which I cannot use, and a prescription for a walking brace. Asked if I needed anything stronger than Advil and I said no, that's fine.

Off to Keene Medical where the girl wasn't sure how much to inflate the cast. I'm not sure it is tight enough but at least it is supporting my leg when I try to put weight on it. Will have to read the directions. The Doctor from orthopaedics called when I got home and I have to return on Monday for a follow up. I am so exhausted and dying of the heat and feel as I said about 2000 years old.

Giving a party on Sunday--have to do all the cooking for it limping around. Family reunion next weekend and family wedding in August and me with a Frankenstein leg. It sucks getting old--I don't care what anyone says.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

When Is It Better to Go Than to Stay?

Coming Up for AirComing Up for Air by Patti Callahan Henry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a thought provoking book--I couldn't put it down. A mother dies unexpectedly and her 40 something daughter, who had a loving but strained relationship with her, finds her mother's journal. The revelations she finds there sends her on a journey--physical, and emotional-- to discover that part of her mother she had never known. Once the woman had been loving and open but to her daughter she had been restrained, constrained by the circumstances of her society and somewhat cold. The discovery of love betrayed and the way in which her mother shaped her life to deal with that betrayal causes the daughter to look more closely at her own marriage. What is love? Does it last forever? Can a true love be rejected and another substitute just as satisfactorily? What choices do we make in our lives and how do we live with those choices? Are there crossroads --such as this death and journal discovery--at which choices can be altered or accepted? These are just some of the questions that arise during the reading and others follow after the book is closed. I'm not sure I liked the pat ending to the book--it was possibly the only part that was unrealistic for me. The rest though probably occurs to women in mid

life more often than imagined.

The characters are well drawn--particularly the daughter and her husband--the others not as much. But then it is the daughter whose marriage is being impacted the most by the events of her mother's life, more so than by the interaction with the other characters.

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Friday, July 15, 2011

Short Introduction to Al Capone

Al Capone: Chicago's King of CrimeAl Capone: Chicago's King of Crime by Nate Hendley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you don't know very much about Al Capone or the heyday of Chicago criminal activity this is an excellent overview. Easily read in one sitting and written in a clear factual manner, yet far from boring. There is no hyperbole or drama just a conversational saga of the mob scene and the corrupt graft taking legal and governmental attitude of Prohibition America. It is interesting to learn of the various personalities of these cruel, vicious, murderous men. One crime lord a florist who drew a line at being involved in prostitution; the Mafia's Sicilian only membership--Capone was Neapolitan!; the personalities that could carry out the Valentine's Day massacre and then play golf or attend family dinners; the politicians who sincerely tried to fight crime and yet socialized with its biggest leaders. Simply unbelieveable and yet historically true and not confined to Chicago or Cicero Illinois--New York City was equally corrupt. I kept waiting for the appearance of Elliot Ness and the Untouchables , but television and movies aside, he entered the Capone picture pretty late in Scarface Al's spree. Also, though he pulled some pretty incredible raids on Capone's installations and some fun irritating stunts on Alphonse, his actions were secondary in the Federal Governments efforts to bring Capone down on tax evasion charges.

In the beginning it was hard to keep all the actors straight with their Italian, Jewish and Irish names to say nothing of their colorful monikers but eventually they and the slang of the day attained a rhythm and familiarity and became easier to navigate. One thing I always enjoy are photos of the characters and events. Unfortunately, there are none here. Nevertheless, this is a good starting off place for anyone interested in the history of organized crime in the 20's-30's Chicago.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Writer to Join the Ranks of Grisham and Brown etal

Think of a Number (Dave Gurney, # 1)Think of a Number by John Verdon

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another first reads giveaway and the first thriller by this author, thankfully not his last, with another to be published in August. Combine a retired, highly successful NYPD homicide detective with a poetic, strange tormentor who eventually kills and you have a plot filled with mystery and dead ends. Add to that an author whose narrative smoothly weaves the main story with the backgrounds of the two protagonists and you have a book that is difficult to put down. It resonated also because though this man is retired it is hard to give up the work. It is also hard for his wife to realize that her hopes for a retired husband will probably not bear fruit. That transition from an active rewarding job to retirement is every bit as difficult as embarking on one's first career--maybe more difficult.

The description of the Catskill town in which David and Madelaine Gurney have retired and its environs give richness to the tale. As an example, it has become " a center of gravity for flower children approaching senility " and " the people who came for country week-ends wore what Ralph Lauren told them people in the country wore." Upon returning from a meeting with an old college friend who has received strange notes in which he is asked to think of a number and then open a smaller note to find that the sender identifies it correctly, he finds that his wife's plate " with its apple core, grape stems,flecks of cheddar and bread crumbs" indicates that she has eaten lunch without waiting for him. Not only did the plot and the characters draw me in but the language and its use transported me into the story. John Verdon's name could easily become as familiar as Brown or Grisham in my opinion.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Hey,Booklovers, Check This Out!!!!


Excellent Convoluted Whodunnit !!!

Dominance: A NovelDominance: A Novel by Will Lavender

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Do not look at the picture of the author of this book--it is too deceiving. That handsome boyish face hides a diabolic mind!

The premise of this novel is so simplistic. In 1982 a celebrated literature professor at a small Vermont college ( it overlooks Lake Champlain---not far from Orwell--hmmm and Route 2 ) is convicted of the axe murders of two of his former students. They were part of a group that were trying to unearth the actual identity of a reclusive author, Paul Fallows and were found with Fallows' books, among others, covering their bodies. Now in 1994, the professor Richard Aldiss has been given permission to teach a night course to nine carefully selected seniors--elite literature students. He gives them clues in various ways to once more identify Fallows and in so doing reveal the real murderer. Aldiss claims to be innocent of the murders. One of the nine, Alexandra Shipley, is successful and Aldiss is granted his freedom. On the notoriety of the case, Shipley, who was headed to Harvard as a grad student, is eventually given a prestigious professorship at Harvard. Her life, it would seem, though greatly impacted by the experience of the night class, is good.

Flash forward to the present: One of the nine, an NYPD detective has committed suicide in his squad car. Shortly thereafter, another, now himself a lit prof at the site of the night class, Jasper College, is murdered with an axe and body is covered with books including those two --he only wrote two--of Fallows'. Aldiss contacts Alex, tells her there is another Fallows' manuscript and enlists her aid in locating it and the new murderer. Simple whodunnit, right? Wrong!

The book moves back and forth from the present to 1994 back to the present. We see the nine as students on a quest and we meet them again as they reunite to mourn the death of their friend on the Jasper campus. The narrative keeps you riveted for nothing is given to you--you become a tenth player in the game called Procedure.... a role-playing game in which the characters of Fallows' books and the scenes from the book are played out. Only problem is--you never know when the game is happening. Who was/is Fallows? Did Aldiss kill those two girls? Is he the killer again? Why are the nine being eliminated--more do die? Just as the end seems to come, the plot takes a turn and you find the mystery, the 1994 mystery and the present mystery are NOT at an end. Even on the last page--though all the threads seem to have been tied up and the killers revealed---does not feel like the end. Is the game over?

One things for sure I'm glad I wasn't a lit major and that obsession over an author and manipulation by my profs weren't part of my studies. Darwin is mystery enough for me! I did know which of the nine had turned very early on but I'm not sure why--it was almost subconscious since the plot spirals just like Fallows' books and kept me looking for that rabbit hole that would lead to solution. It was an engrossing and mysterious ride and Will Lavender has been added to my list of intriguing authors!

My only criticism and I feel this way about the TV shows, NCIS, Bones, Rissolli and Isles etc. Doesn't anyone pay their electric bills? For that matter, doesn't anyone have electricity? I'm so tired of total darkness and flashlights in every scene! Doesn't freak me out or increase the tension--it just irritates the hell out of me! Very minor distraction, however.

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Karen B wrote: "Katherine, is Dominion as bloody violent as the cover looks? I am picturing a lot of people getting hacked up."

Actually, no, though the murders were axe murders and books were strewn onto the bodies, the actual crimes predate the action in the book. There are several that occur over the course of the narrative but Lavender uses psychology and mystery rather than gore to keep you reading.