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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

Monday, December 29, 2014

What Is the Biggest Secret You've Kept in Your Marriage??

Bet it isn't that you are a former field agent for the CIA or that you've killed people doing your job! But that is the one Katherine, affectionately known at Kat by her husband, Dexter, is keeping locked away as he accepts a new job that will take them to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg to live with their two small boys. Seeing this as the time to divest herself of her CIA obligations and start a new life as an expat housefrau, she resigns from the Company and decides she will henceforth be known as Kate, to her family and to the other expat housewives from all over the world with whom she will develop a matriarchal social circle. Initially, all seems to go well, until one of these fellow wives, Julia and her extremely handsome, self-assured husband, Bill enter their lives and become the best friend married couple with whom they seem to do most of their socializing. Then Kate's dormant suspicious mind begins to feel as though she is being watched and that this couple may be hired assassins, after her? After someone at the Palais, over the grounds of which their apartment looks? As their friendship intensifies, more and more Kate's instincts become aroused until she finds herself contacting her old boss, Hayden and she starts to enjoy the excitement of the hunt once more. Eventually, however, her suspicions begin to focus on the activities of Dexter and what appears to be secretive behavior. To compound the usual cat and mouse life of a CIA operative and its dangers comes the guilt over the secrets she has kept from Dexter for over ten years and her dawning realization that he, too, has been keeping secrets. This creates some dichotomy in her--is it alright for her to hide her past life from him, but a betrayal if he keeps secrets from her? What does this say about the ability to trust one's partner? Between the mystery surrounding these fellow expats and the angst of determining the health of her marriage, Kate and the reader are taken on a exciting ride emotionally and physically, through the beautiful and accessible cities and country sides of Western Europe. Pavone paints his characters with a realistic brush, the bored wife who gave up an exciting career to clean her own toilets and yet, is torn about being bored, since she loves her family and wants to spend time with her young boys and her husband, taking care of their needs and being satisfied with coffee and shopping trips with the girls--boy, can I ever relate! The husband, good at a well paying job, not movie star handsome but good looking, in good shape, comfortable as an old pair of leather gloves, who obviously loves her and their boys; able to socialize comfortably enough with the other expats but just as content to work and go out seldomly when home. Julia, the childless sort of clinging expat wife who is married to the heart stopping handsome, smooth talking, well-groomed, confident man who knows all the right people and right places and moves effortlessly through the world expecting adoration, Bill. When Pavone puts him at the table with the other three, controlling the situation and determining the evening's events and even disarming a would-be mugger, the reader is a fifth at the table as mesmerized as the others by Bill. And Hayden, Kate's former boss, who is wont to meet her in museums and who, whenever they are in contact, by phone or in person, drops nuggets of esoteric trivia into her ear, which she then scores on a scale of one to ten. What a delight is Hayden--I want one of those dependable friends at my command to lighten the load, whatever it may be at the moment. All in all, an exciting, thought provoking read, filled with a well developed cast of characters to like, suspect and eventually uncover and reveal in some surprising twists, not confined to the Alpine roads in winter. "I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Friday, December 26, 2014

A Maritime Tragedy of Elegance on the Sea

Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian AgeLusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age by Greg King

Almost everyone in the world knows the story of the tragic collision of the Titanic and an iceberg in the North Atlantic. This is the story of an equally elegant ship populated by equally affluent and influential people sailing in unbelievable opulence in the opposite direction during a period when most of the Western world was at war. Here, then, is the Lusitania, the fastest ship on the seas, sailing under the guise of American neutrality from New York to Liverpool, through the Irish Sea and the war zone in which lurked German U-Boats.

On May 7, 1914 the commander of U-20 ordered the release of the torpedo that would send Lusitania to the bottom of the ocean within 15 minutes! That event, however, just a little over a hundred years ago, comes at the midpoint of this engrossing little book.

The authors begin the tale by setting the scene for us financially: a good motor car that would cost $1000 then, would in today's dollars cost $23 000. They provide a cast of characters, whose names and personalities are very familiar to the reader by the time the first explosion that rocked them and their late lunch, with portholes open to allow the lovely Spring breeze to enter the elegant rooms under an almost cloudless blue, sun drenched sky eleven miles off the shores of Ireland.

The writing's tone draws the reader into the early days of leisurely sailing with multiple changes of clothing, promenades and reading and lounging in deck chairs, writing letters, eating fabulous meals with strangers who become temporary friends, and following the social admonitions of Emily Post throughout. Yet, for some, there is some apprehension --the possibility of attack and the apparent lack of safety measures causing concern.

When the torpedo does come the reader, just as the passengers, experiences the shock, but disbelief that the ship will sink, through the fear, and panic and frantic reactions. We are carried overboard to be pulled down in the ship's suction only to bounce up. floating under an impossibly beautiful sky in freezing water. Eventually, some are saved and the authors take us ashore with them to the little town of Queensland and the beach where those who died wash up.

We are carried through the political manipulation of the story and then in an epilogue, we revisit the survivors to find what their lives became after the tragedy. It is such a well written book that the story seems as current as any in this morning's newspapers. The men and women and children--the passengers--the Captain and his officers on the Lusitania and even the Commander of the U-Boat are three-dimensional and real.

Anyone who enjoys the stories of the Edwardian Age and all its apparent splendor, who is fascinated by the social and technological changes of the early 20th century and who is interested in great human tragedies will find this book extremely rewarding and a fast read. It is, however, a book whose story lingers and brings home once more the fact that all the money in the world cannot protect mere mortals from overwhelming events and that some of the poorest of the poor can manage to survive them.

This was an Advance Uncorrected Proof that I received from BookBrowse to review

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Exposes Can Lead to Death

A manuscript for an anonymously penned expose of a media mogul's life, called The Accident, is delivered to an agent of a major publishing house, Isabel Reed. The major revelation is that the mogul, when an undergraduate in Ithaca, New York, became intoxicated, picked up a girl he tried to rape and, when she was able to escape from his car, ran her over and killed her. He and his friend, the author of the manuscript, then threw her body into a ravine and managed to cover up the incident for over twenty five years. This all becomes evident to us, the readers, within several pages. What we don't know is why people are being murdered once they become aware of the manuscript's existence or who, really, is behind the attempts to destroy all copies of it. The action takes place in New York, Zurich, Paris, London, on Long Island, in Beverly Hills and has as many twists and turns as any of the roads over which cars are driven at top speeds down the curving hills of the latter or those on the Italian coast. Although throughout the novel we know for certain who has written the book, some of the players do not and red herrings are thrown in their paths several times, slowing them down in their effort to find and eliminate him as well. The twist at the end is totally unexpected but leaves room for the possibility that Isabel and Hayden, the man who is primarily in charge of disposing of the irritating book and its author, may resurface in another installment of The Accident in the future. In addition to the main plot of the novel, the paths a promising manuscript can take through the publishing business is fascinating. It is a wonder any book gets published or that any author makes a living writing. But, the characters in this book who encounter the manuscript are fascinating and well developed, from assistants such as Allison to the fellow agent, Camilla, who travels to Beverly Hills and the casting couch with which she has resigned herself to occupy in order to convince a movie mogul to buy the rights to film the story that will destroy a very rich, very arrogant man who has moved on from hiding a murder in his youth to far more nefarious acts at the urging of the CIA. All in all a fascinating read about a hot, promising, money making manuscript and the people involved in bringing it to bookstores and movie screens and those involved in preventing that from happening. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

On Finding a New Scandinavian Crime Novel

Autumn Killing: A ThrillerAutumn Killing: A Thriller by Mons Kallentoft
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was at first difficult to get into. The rhythm was chaotic and the syntax kept changing making it even more so. In addition, italicized lengthy paragraphs appearing to be the thoughts of the corpse were disconcerting. Still, something drew me into the story. Maybe the unusual presentation, which I though might have to do with the fact that it was translated from the Swedish. Though it was slow going in the beginning, the story started to unfold and move more rapidly and smoothly. The characters, for the most part, were highly developed, though as in many of the Scandinavian books a bit difficult, as first, to keep straight--their names being unusual to me.
There was one section in the book that I particularly enjoyed. Each of the characters and their activities were described in one paragraph after another during the same time period. It was one of the most clever way of revealing the differences in their lifestyles and circumstances.
The alcoholism of the main character, Malin Fors, and its affects on her family, particularly her teenage daughter, and her relationship to them and on her work and her co-workers was harrowing.

The continued use of the italics to start additional comments from the murder victims and the murderer did become confusing and at times irritating, as did the dreams Fors continued to have throughout the book. At one point she tells her supervisor, Sven, that she has been listening to the voices, as he'd taught her, to solve the case. At that point, it became clear to me that reading the third book in the series without having read the first two, may have been part of the problem. Not only because this aspect of Malin's approach to a crime was unknown to me, but also that her daughter, Tove, had apparently been a victim of one of Malin's earlier perpetrators.

Nevertheless, the book was engrossing with its red herrings, dead ends and lack of clues for most of the investigation. Lots of disjointed pieces until at almost the very end a new piece clicked and everything fell into place. Sort of like trying hundreds of keys in a lock to no avail and then one day in a forgotten drawer another key appears and opens the lock without a bit of trouble. Interesting and different enough to make me seek out the earlier chapters in Malin Fors life.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

De Niro : A Life by Shawn Levy


At an early stage in his career, Robert De Niro, Jr wondered why anyone would be interested in his life, specifically what he had for breakfast. That wonderment partially explains why he has never been particularly forthcoming through interviews or public appearances about his personal life. Though this book, by its title ,purports to be a biography of the man it is more accurate to say that it is an analysis of an actor and his methodology in his career. While it is true that some of the personal aspects of his life are interspersed or included tangentially in the story, the basic skeleton of the work is how De Niro researched and prepared for the major roles of his early career.

At one point in the book a director is said to have over 3000 hours of footage to edit to make a cogent movie that fits within the attention span of the audience and production costs of the studio—one that is about 2 to 2 and 1?2 hours long. Well, the author had copious amounts of information from which to draw a cogent book that does the same and at 551 pages it could have been edited even more and been easier to read. There is a great deal of overlap and repetition. Though De Niro’s career took off with his appearance in Godfather Part ii, released in 1974, he had been studying and acting in New York long before that. Yet, the work he did in the 1990’s does not appear until well past the halfway mark of the book. Granted, by the author’s and many critics’ views his best work was done in the late 70’s through the 80’s and he seems to have given up digging deeply into his talents in movie choices. Interestingly enough it is the work done in these later years that has been most universally embraced by audiences, nationally and internationally. Most especially the Focker movies have, with Shark Tale , brought in the most money combined of any of his previous work.

The bottom line for me about this book, which I read primarily because Bobby, as he is called by friends and family, and I are of an age and we grew up in the same general area of Manhattan. I left around the time he went off to Italy at 19 and did not return. Actually, I’d forgotten how small and discreet the neighborhoods were in the City of our youth. I lived in Chelsea, only 7 blocks from his 14th St neighborhood, but by ethnicity and culture it might as well have been 7 miles or more. Although he came to believe that it wasn’t important to his fans what school he went to or what his early life had been like I was curious to see what similarities there may have been between us before we grew up and became our adult selves. This book gave me none of that but then again, perhaps it did. Scorcese grew up about 7 blocks south of 14th around the same time in Little Italy and, as the book points out, there was little in common between their lives either—De Niro lived a more Bohemian life as the son of artists than either of the two of us, Martin or I.  That speaks to the truth of the big metropolis known as New York City—it is a place of little neighborhoods which in another geographic area would produce little towns very different from each other though located fairly closely.

Despite this lack of fulfilling my original expectations of content, it was not very far into the book that I didn’t care that this was not a tell all, birth to old age, saga of one famous man’s life. The story of how movies come to be, how they are written, the people whose hands they pass through, the method of casting, the personalities involved in the release of the final product was fascinating. As mentioned earlier, some of the movies were described endlessly it seemed, but the minute detail taken by De Niro to produce his role in each was remarkable.

The names of other actors with whom he played on stage,or in the movies brought back to mind some who have died or whose careers have died. Through the years as women’s roles needed to be cast the roll-call of actresses was telling. Though some, such as Meryl Streep appeared very early on, as in the Deer Hunter, and remained right into the 21 century as possibilities in his work, others came and within a few years were gone from the lists for consideration.  Yet, Harvey Keitel and other male actors lasted for decades. Certainly supports the claim that males are considered physically attractive much longer than females when it comes to show business.

Bottom line, the book is too long, it isn’t a biography, the material does not result from any input from De Niro or anyone truly close to him, as stated in the acknowledgements at the end. You will NOT find out what he eats for breakfast, though you will learn what he likes to drink,that he is something of a womanizer, that he has a few children, he’s made lots of money in real estate, much like his mother and that his father was a well known, somewhat well respected artist who never made a great deal of money. He can be incredibly supportive and encouraging and generous to his costars. He can also stiff a carpenter for work he did, stiff a guy at lunch for the tab and stiff a nanny of overtime hours—he’s cheap. He can be abrasive and carry a grudge. But, he can be moved to tears. He coined the name Tribeca for a warehouse neighborhood in lower Manhattan, made it the new costly Greenwich Village and sued a guy in London who used TriBeCa in the name of his bar. ( Funny, growing up in NY the only SoHo I ever heard of was in London and my grandmother who would be over 125 now lived on Houston in her youth.)

Two other comments in the book explain for me why the focus is not biographical for the most part; a fellow working on Backdraft with him told a journalist “ to know him as a person is grabbing at smoke. He came to the set and unknown quality and, on a personal level, he kind of left it that way.” “ He still protected his privacy zealously.”

With that kind of reserve, which from what little the book reveals, seems to extend even to those most close to him, there is much about Robert De Niro that only De Niro will ever know and in the long run that is fine. It is true of all of us and a public figure should not have to expose more that the rest of us to the world. If you can live with that and if you have a real interest in movie making , particularly De Niro movies, then this is the book for you. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review