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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, August 31, 2014

A Pleasant Story That Young Adults Would Enjoy

Annie’s Stories (Ellis Island, #2)Annie’s Stories by Cindy Thomson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Annie's Stories was a Goodreads giveaway. While the story of a widow lady's home, in which she has provided shelter for immigrant girls at the turn of the 20th century in Lower Manhattan, was interesting I found it unduly long and therefore, at times boring. The writing is suited to a middle school grade level but at times is a little heavy on the religious theme.

Despite these drawbacks there is much about the living conditions of young women alone in the city that rings true. Annie is an orphan from Ireland living in the home of Mrs Hawkins, whose brother, a Catholic priest, had arranged the situation. Interestingly, the church the women of the house attend is not Catholic. Annie's father, an Irish storyteller, has left her little in worldly goods, but she does possess several of his stories, which he'd written down for her when he became ill. These bolster her spirits when she is depressed.

The Postman is a young American, who is also without family. He has debts which he is finding difficult to pay. Annie's stories become important to him as well. There is another young lady residing in the house, Kristen, a German girl working at the shirtwaist factory. She and her brother become the subjects of a Pinkerton investigation, which adds mystery to the story. Grace, yet another girl from Ireland, is a nanny to a doctor and his wife and is about to marry a young policeman. The household is rounded out with Aileen, Annie's cousin, for whom she feels no affection but who turns out the be a treasured addition in the end.

All in all, a pleasant story but not one that tempts me to continue with the series.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Happily Ever After with Blueberries on Top!

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & CafeThe Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop & Cafe by Mary Simses
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My paperback copy was a Goodreads giveaway. An easy summer read about an engaged Manhattan lawyer is designer clothes carrying an expensive Nikon arriving in a small coastal Maine town, a tourist magnet. She is on a mission given her by her dying grandmother, to deliver a letter to a man in her grandmother's hometown. The letter is an apology for something that transpired between the two and Ellen feels an obligation to deliver it and at the same time learn something of her grandmother's early days growing up in this small town.

On her first day, Ellen trespasses on a rotting dock, falls through and it carried by a rip tide out into the depths. She is rescued by a local carpenter, Roy, around whose neck she throws her arms and upon whose lips she plants a strong kiss once he has gotten her safely to land once more.

Needless to say, Ellen being a tourist, though with local if old connections to the town, acts touristy and is called out kiddingly by Roy and Paula, the owner of the B and B in which Ellen is staying. Both Ellen's big city personality and the Mainiac local personalities are well developed. After staying overlong in Maine, Ellen is joined by her law partner and fiancé, Hayden who is from a prominent family and is politically ambitious. His obvious distain for the backwoods area and folks is well described. The reaction of the two when visiting an obviously undereducated impoverished local in her trailer home is spot on. They are afraid of the place and the woman, Sugar, and also quite ready to cheat her of the money she hopes to earn selling Ellen's grandmother's paintings, which have sat in her home and family for over 60 years.

At some point, Ellen's mother, the daughter of the painting grandmother and her doctor husband arrives on the scene as well. Both she and Ellen are quite capable of letting down their hair and blending in with the locals at the Antler's once they've had a few drinks.

There is an underlying sense of condescension toward the place, the accommodations at the hotel, the people that kept nagging at me throughout the story. Reading another reviewer referring to the room as shabby clarified the feeling for me. As a result the rating of the book is lower than I might have given it.

In the end, Hayden loses to Roy but living in a similar area of Vermont--lakeside rather than Oceanside--I wonder if the uneducated though successful builder and the Exeter and law school grad, who plan on running a blueberry farm and Ellen's bakery are truly going to make it. But that is the part of the story left to the readers' imaginations. It takes more than a change into jeans and tee shirt and making blueberry croissants to leave Manhattan for a small New England tourist town that dies in winter. Maybe they'll be snowbirds. This is feel good fiction after all and it is fun.

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Saturday, August 23, 2014

Music Can Conquer All

Tempted by YouTempted by You by Tiffany Clare
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a Goodreads first read giveaway. A lively romance about a piano virtuoso, Rosa, who is damaged physically ( blind ), emotionally ( her fiancé was killed in the accident in which she was blinded ) and socially ( her father was forced by her would-be father-in-law to disown and humiliate her). She has become a courtesan in order to survive and so is a social outcast. One of her closest friends is a Duke to whom she has appealed for help. Her dissolute younger brother has disappeared and she seeks the aristocrats aid in finding him. The Duke is otherwise engaged with problems of his own, however, his younger brother, Ted, becomes enchanted with her and agrees to help in the Duke's stead, if Rosa will assist him in perfecting a musical opus he is preparing and with which he is dissatisfied.

Of course, everything works out happily for the two musicians, Ted is a violinist as well as a composer, but not before all kinds of obstacles must be overcome. Though the story line is familiar the author adds touches that are unique. Each chapter, for example, begins with a love note written by a famous musician, primarily but not exclusively, by Beethoven. The words are such revelations about the poetry and literacy in the hearts and minds of composers whose musical works have lasted through the test of time. Perhaps, Ted and, indeed, Rosa, who also composes, will join their ranks.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Women Cannot Run the Show? We'll See Grandpa!

House of Dads (Hillary Broome Novels, Book 2)House of Dads by June Gillam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I won this Goodreads giveaway the author was kind enough to send me the first book in the series, The House of Cuts. I read that one first and reviewed it, favorably. This time round is no exception--the heroine, Hillary Broome, is a likeable 30 something journalist whose father has died and whose mother deserted them when she was a young girl. She has had a couple of failed relationships, made a huge error in judgment while a journalism student at Columbia ( the possible revelation of which by one of those past boyfriends keeps her up at night) and has returned home to the California valley in which she grew up. She is working for an old classmate at a small local newspaper and teaching part time at the local community college.

In the first installment, while reporting on a big box grocery chain in the area she becomes embroiled in the gruesome deeds of a meticulous butcher of a serial killer and meets the lead detective on the case. He, Ed Killian, has lost a child to a hit and run and his wife has taken his other daughter and moved to the East coast, where she divorced him and severed all relationship. He is trying to give up cigars and to convince his rather obese partner, Walt, to eat less and more healthfully. By the end of that book, Ed and Hillary are engaged, Hillary has become friends with the elderly widow of one of the victims and Walt is still a glutton.

In this new book, House of Dads, Hillary has become closer to her father's family--the Broomes of Broome Construction. They are major developers of tract houses and are riding the bubble of easy mortgages and massive development. The head of the company has died and his son, Ted is in line to assume control. The Irish founder of the firm had three sons--Hillary's two uncles and her father, whom he'd disowned as being undeserving since he had no interest in the company. As a result, Hillary is not terribly close to her cousins though she is in attendance, with Ed, at her uncle's funeral. It is during the after funeral reception that Ted keels over and dies. Although, grandfather Pat had long ago decreed that only men can be in charge of the business, there are no male heirs available, so the job falls to Ted's sister, Violet.

So begins the mystery of what caused Ted's death, how Violet will withstand her mother's threat of adopting a son to prevent Violet's control, Violet's rush to become pregnant--with luck, carrying a boy--Hillary's apprehension at possibly marrying Ed too fast, her anxiety at having a family to which to belong. The strands of the tale weave and run and in the end all comes clear, Ed and Hillary marry in a delightful side romp, and the reader is left with the happy anticipation of the next adventure which will take place on Ed and Hillary's honeymoon in Ireland.

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Monday, August 18, 2014

The Biggest British Intelligence Scandal of the 20th Century

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great BetrayalA Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This review refers to an uncorrected proof I received from Goodreads. The book has been at the number one spot in non-fiction for the last two weeks and it truly deserves its place. A group of five Cambridge students, upper class British gentlemen, became enamored of the Communist regime in Russia in the 1930's. They proceeded to infiltrate MI5 and MI6 through their connections and moved upwards within the ranks of these British counterparts of American CIA and FBI. They served as spies for their own country and moles for the Soviets.

Their work began during WWII when the Soviets were allies with the West against fascism and Nazism but it continued during the Cold War. Kim Philby was the most Janus-like of them all. This is no James Bond story with dark alleys and jumping off trains or shooting guns at each other. These are men drinking gallons of booze, dining in fine restaurants, going to conservative and proper mens' clubs, having all night parties and sharing secrets with one another. Americans, Italians, British--all buddies and trusting each other with plans meant to infiltrate the Soviet Union or to stymie Soviet activities. They were men who devised the plans and were the men who sent the field agents like Bond in to carry them out.

Kim Philby learned about plans of American intelligence and planned many British operations. He then proceeded to share all his knowledge for over 30 years with his Soviet handlers. He was charming, a ladies man, a bon vivant and never had any remorse over the lives that were lost as a result of his spying. He was slippery--almost caught several times. He lost his position with the government for four years--distrusted by the American as well as British intelligence only to be reinstated in a position with even more access to secrets. It is an unbelievable story, told in a most readable way. Makes one wonder how far off Joe McCarthy really was. It is a story of arrogance, old boy politics and snobbery, and total lack of discretion. The actions of Philby and his friends reverberated through many years after the defection of three of the original British spies to Moscow, where they lived as drunken expatriates, devoted to their Communist ideals to the end.

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Friday, August 8, 2014

Slaughter and Dismemberment in SuperCuts Supermarket

House of Cuts (Hillary Broome Novels, Book 1)House of Cuts by June Gillam
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was not actually a Goodreads giveaway but it was sent to me by the author because I HAD won the second book in the series and she thought I might enjoy reading the first installment. I think that was very thoughtful of her and will probably make the volume I won more enjoyable.

The heroine in the series is a 30ish red-headed newspaper reporter in a small town near Lodi, California, by the name of Hillary Broome. She is working on a small newspaper with a former journalism classmate who inherited it from his Dad. A new large store, part of the Pricecuts chain, has opened in town and Hillary has been sent to interview the Human Resources Manager, Steven Brookfield. Unfortunately, as the reader already knows, Steven is sitting at his desk, without his head, and both arms removed neatly from his torso a the shoulders and then severed neatly at the elbows. These four pieces are precisely arranged on his desk in I Ching rows, reaching toward $20 bills. Thus begins a fast paced story just as precisely set out in short chapters. Hillary and her editor meet several people along the way as they try to cover the story and the next murder.

Ed, the handsome detective, with whom Hillary is taken, his partner, Walt, who could lose a few pounds, the widows of both victims and a New York, Martha Stewart type who is contracted with Pricecuts to set up demo kitchens in the store to sell along with all the other offerings of a big box store. Who is the killer? No one, including the reader knows, but the reader does know the motive. Pricecuts must pay for the demise of Mom and Pop stores as the result of their coming into the small town and the killer hopes the murders will drive customers away. When the first two don't get the message across, the killer must target a third victim.

The description of management, and working conditions at Pricecuts in remarkable in its accuracy. There is a chain with a very similar name and it all sounds familiar. And while it is true that small stores are affected by the buying power and therefore cheaper prices of big box stores, there are some who survive by changing their operations to be competitive. Nevertheless, the story, while not as similar to Silence of the Lambs as one reviewer stated, is engrossing and an easy read. The ending does have a certain tension to it and the madness of the killer is quite frightening in its realistic possibility. I look forward to reading the next installment of Hillary Broome's adventures and to seeing where, if anywhere, her friendship with Eddie takes her.

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Everything that Happened in Post Revolutionay, AnteBellum America in One Small Book!!

Reverberation The NovelReverberation The Novel by V.B. Holmes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This first reads giveaway was not an easy read. The story didn't flow and it had to be taken in small doses. Briefly, the plot is about greed. A man has died, his lawyer says he has a more current will than the one originally known by the heir and heiresses--a son and four daughters. The son is a friend of the lawyer and is bound by hook or crook to make sure his sisters get none of the estate. One sister and her husband and her brother-in-law after a bit of drink decide if the lawyer is killed before producing this new will then the estate will be evenly divided among the children. So the son-in-law and the daughter, unbeknownst to each other, take a pot shot at the lawyer and one of them hits and kills him.

So begins this tale which seems a good mystery. The time is August 1828, the scene is somewhere in the Eastern United States, certainly in a slave state. The author writes a preface about his home which dates back to the Revolution and the ghostly apparition that has appeared to him a few times. He becomes interested in the history of the house which leads him to the history of the times and all the various movements of Spiritualism, communal religious sects, etc. So he writes a story in which The American Colonization Society, prostitution, incest, greed, the treatment of mental illness in asylums, religious communities similar to Jonestown and Waco, suffrage, womens' rights, abortion, and, maybe most importantly, given the title, retribution. It is just too much to take in such everything but the kitchen sink description of life in antebellum , post Revolutionary America, all happening in one small area of the country. Perhaps, most disturbing is the quoting of Scripture by the incestuous Reverend of the commune, with complete attribution to chapter and verse.

And, the fact that every character in the book gets what is coming to him or her is just too unrealistic. All in all, it feels very heavy handed and dogmatic and, as stated in the opening paragraph, a tough read. For those who wish to further explore the themes and messages of the book there are 14 questions for discussion as well as a website for additional questions.

Had I not felt an obligation to review the book, I probably would not have finished it.

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

One of the Classic Broadway Musicals and Its Wonderful Screen Adaptation

Tradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved MusicalTradition!: The Highly Improbable, Ultimately Triumphant Broadway-to-Hollywood Story of Fiddler on the Roof, the World's Most Beloved Musical by Barbara Isenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I entered this Goodreads giveaway it was motivated by the fact I grew up in Manhattan and going to Broadway shows was as natural for me as going to the movies was to kids growing up in areas far less rich with cultural opportunities. Of course I didn't know then that not every kid had Broadway actors in their classes and that they were a couple of Peter's Lost Boys. Not every kid believed that Peter could fly but I knew he could--he flew right over my head in a darkened theatre. And not every kid saw her mother hugged by Una Merkel backstage at Mr Pennypacker, or visited with glamorous Martha Scott or twinkly Burgess Meredith.

And onward through the years, I sat enthralled or stood, in my college poor years, at the back of Broadway theatres having paid $1 for a standing room only ticket. Once, a couple who hated Stop The World, left before intermission and gave my roommate and me third row center orchestra seats for free! It was our sixth time at the show and these people hated it! LOL

But, in June 1963 I graduated college and headed off to Albany and graduate school. So when Fiddler opened I was gone. I had no interest in heading down to see it since Zero Mostel was one of my least favorite actors. I found him overblown and so much the center of attention that the rest of anything he was in was lost --the cast, the story, the sets, the music--everything and I didn't think he was funny. Around 1973 or so some friends, Jewish, wanted to go down to the city to see it. We tried but couldn't get tickets so we went to see Cabaret instead. We loved it and forgot about Fiddler.

When the movie came out, I went to see it and fell head over heels in love with everything about it. Notified I'd won the book, I began to think about the show and wondered why I, a Catholic Irish-German girl from the west side, loved this story of Jewish Russian life so much. And I realized there were several reasons---we Catholics have tons of traditions and I love the ritual of them, the Irish were treated terribly by the Brits at home and weren't very welcomed when they came to this country and boy, oh, boy my Irish-German father who was 40 when I was born wasn't having an easy time of having a 20 year old daughter in the '60's. Mom was doing better but not by much.

And then the book arrived---what a wonderful book! The play is built stone by stone--the "boys" who wrote it--Stein, Bock, Harnick--Jewish all; Jerome Robbins! an incredible choreographer; Harold Prince--a name that at the time was synonymous with Broadway--they are all there.

The casting once the show was a go, the out of town runs in Detroit and Washington DC with all the rewrites, particularly the second act. What an experience. As the book talked about all the songs that were written for the show and discarded I went in search of my vinyl cast album. Couldn't find it so stopped reading and went to Amazon, ordered the CD and downloaded it and sat listening to the whole thing. How I wish I could hear some of the rejects. But when the opening violin played and then Tradition came blasting from the speakers of my computer I knew that nothing could have been better and that the song embodied the theme of the play. And there, in that moment, like I had to agree with Sister Mary Immaculate who said the show was the most catholic musical with a little c!

The book goes on to describe the opening on Broadway, the various actors who appeared in the original run of eight years, the many permutations of the play throughout the world and the years and in every aspect the excitement keeps pace with the story.

Once Norman Jewison, not Jewish, is engaged to direct the movie version, the story becomes interesting in a whole different way. The stage, even with revolving concentric sections, is so small and limiting. It is a close, personal experience shared by actors and audience; it is intimate and emotional. A movie is more wide open and allows the story's setting to be much more defined. The actors have a much larger canvas on which to perform and the music is larger, too. Added to the art of Chagall whose work influenced so much of the staging and the writings of Sholom Aleichem which really were a very, very skeletal basis of the story,is the violin of Isaac Stern and the composition of John Williams to fill in the new spaces a movie creates. Here the excitement revolves around an international search for setting and players and it is every bit as engrossing as the back story of the Broadway production.

The coda summarizes all the various forms the revivals and world-wide productions that have ensued from the original production which opened 50 years ago.

It is a fabulous book that anyone interested in how a play is created, how it is adapted into a movie (in this case successfully, unlike the Unsinkable Molly Brown!), how it is cast and what it is like to be part of a production that has itself become part of musical theatre tradition would thoroughly enjoy. Now I'm going to YouTube to see if I can find the video of the production number the man who is responsible for In the Heights pulled together for his wife at their wedding. He used the song To Life to involve wedding party members, guests, both fathers in a huge celebration of the day. I'm dying to see Miranda's " To Life: Vanessa's Wedding Surprise" (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgZ4ZTTfKO8 ), then I'm grabbing some popcorn and wine and settling in to watch Fiddler on the Roof for three hours. L'chaim!!

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