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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Rather Lengthy Gossip Column

Frank & Ava: In Love and WarFrank & Ava: In Love and War by John Brady
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Basically this is a Hollywood tell all with a central theme of Frank's big love was Ava, Ava's big love was Frank. They couldn't live together but just couldn't stay apart. Ho-hum----the story didn't strike me as a life long passion but rather an obsessive relationship driven primarily by lust and booze. Not my definition of love and not terribly different from the relationships that they managed to have with others both together and apart. A very lengthy gossip column that revealed much more than I wanted to know about the sharing of wives, girlfriends and one night stands among far too many of the well-known men in Hollywood at the time. None of these people, in my opinion, loved anyone but themselves--both the men and the women.

As to the two principals of the story: Ava was pretty--some said beautiful-- an okay actress, apparently quite good in bed and very fond of it, and a drunken souse. Arrived in Hollywood a teen virgin who neither drank nor smoked, according to the author. Within two and a half years she was married and divorced twice, drank and smoked plenty and still hadn't landed a significant role in any movie. Frank was just what every newspaper article ever described. Here those stories were repeated and slightly elaborated upon--basically he was arrogant and slept around and hung out with mobsters.

I received this book from Bookbrowse in the First Impressions program to read and review. Glad I didn't spend any money on this padded supposed story of two people who couldn't live with or without each other.

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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Luther and Katharina--Reformers Looking for Love

Luther and KatharinaLuther and Katharina by Jody Hedlund
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

An absolutely riveting novel about Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, whose troubles with both the Pope and The Holy Roman Emperor seemed to preclude a chance at married life and love and the establishment of a family. At the age of 40 he becomes enamoured of a nun, Katharina von Bora, whom he has inspired to reject her Cistercian vows and whom he assists to escape her convent. She is 24 and has been cloistered since the age of 5 and he has been celibate all his life. She has brought eight other nuns with her and over time he manages to arrange marriages or placements in families for all but Katharina.

Though the struggle of these two to find love and compatibility runs throughout the story, the facts of Luther's attempts at Reformation of the Catholic Church, while eluding the enemies who would kill him are well presented. He is conservative in the demands he makes for changes but as in many movements that have a wide following there are those who become more fanatical. Their activities result in widespread vandalism, murder, rape and plunder known as the Peasants' Revolt. Luther is horrified by the rampage and tries to mediate between the peasants and their masters, eventually siding with the nobility. The description of these historically accurate events is presented in a very readable and enjoyable form.

The fact that the story is bolstered with appearances of actual personages such as Luther's closest friends, Melanchthon, who, though married himself does not want Luther to marry and thus become distracted from the work at hand. Interesting holdover from the Church's policy of priestly celibacy under the same premise. The paintings I've seen of Melanchthon make him seem to be the handsome man that the author paints Luther, though his paintings do not support the written description. I'm glad I looked at them after reading the book. Justus Jonas, with his humor and almost sibling ability to kid Luther, is a delight. Along with Martin and Katharina these two are the most well fleshed out characters though several of the others, less prominent, have distinguishing traits that ring true.

As the author states in her closing notes, the plot of the story and the backgrounds of the players are all true. What she has done is create scenarios that are her imaginings of the interactions of the couple on a personal level and some possible situations in which they may have found themselves. It is a novel after all and not an historical treatise and as such it was entertaining, informative and a delightful read.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review---an ARC

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review: Undiplomatic Murder

Undiplomatic Murder Undiplomatic Murder by Donald Bain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Margaret Truman died it was a blow to her fans--we thought like Uris and Michener and others that her death meant the death of her Capital Crime series. Happily, Donald Bain has taken over and he does not disappoint. This, the most recent of the series, revolves around Robert Brixton, former cop, dissatisfied PI and now an Agent for a private investigative firm serving the Department of State in Washington, DC, a city he hates. Divorced, recently having broken up with his long-time girlfriend, he lives in a small apartment where he receives a call from his younger of two daughters. She is a free spirit who is part of a small music scene and wants to convince him to invest in a scheme for an app developed by her current boyfriend, a member of a rock band. They agree to meet for lunch at an outdoor café. While they are talking and eating, a young girl of Middle Eastern appearance sits at an adjoining table with a blond white American male, who, after drinking half a glass of lemonade and whispering several times in the girl's ear abruptly leaves. Robert's professional antennae are aroused and he suddenly urges his daughter to get up and depart with him. She is confused and while he rushes away from the patio she pauses to gather her things and grab another shrimp. As Robert turns to call her to him a bomb goes off knocking him to the ground and killing her and several others instantly. As the chaos develops around him, he sees the blond man, chases him into an alley and shoots him dead. As a result, Robert is put on paid leave and in his grief and confusion he determines that he will find the perpetrator of the blast and bring him to justice as the murderer of his daughter. The ensuing investigation with many twists and turns leads him in many interesting and seemingly unconnected directions. As with all of this books of this series, the characters are so well defined and the conversations so well written that one feels like another person in the scene. The two characters that Truman focused on were Mac and Annabelle Mackenzie and they do make several appearances in this tale as well. They are not as integral to Bain's installments and I miss them. There is hope at the end of the book, however, that this may change in the next installment due in August --another month--well in a couple of weeks. I hope that is true, I miss them and want to have them do more than host dinner parties where we all sit out on the balcony of the Watergate overlooking the Potomac.

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Monday, July 20, 2015

Why Did Constantiople Get the Works? It's Nobody's Business But the Turks! And This Book Explains It All

Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern IstanbulMidnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul by Charles King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book arrived almost a year ago from Goodreads. I was so excited to receive it because my Father had told me so many tales about his Mediterranean cruise and arrival in Istanbul in the early 20's. The place sounded so exotic with its street vendors all speaking different hand vying for the sailors' American dollars and hassling with them over prices. The music that poured from many places on intruments unfamiliar to the West. The whirling dervish Sufi's in the square in front of the magnificent and indescribable Hagia Sofia--where one had to remove ones shoes before entering. The baggy pants and fez on the men and the body covering garments of the women. It all sounded so exciting and mysterious to the pre-teen girl who listened as he showed me faded black and white pictures that I still have, even more faded than before.

Why then did it take so long for me to manage to read this book? Because the first at least 150 pages were unbelievably dull and boring. The history of the Ottoman Empire and the First World War and all of the Russians pouring into the city to escape the Bolsheviks should have been interesting and riveting but instead it was a slog--it was like reading a history text book with little personality or feeling. I kept at it, on and off, reading other books and coming back to read a few pages at a time. And at last, my doggedness paid off.

Once King came to the rise of Ataturk and the modernization of Istanbul the story became exciting. Finally, the author began to talk about individuals who lived and moved through the city--and their lives and their motivations and their involvement in what the city is today. And, here too, the significance of the Pera Palace became more evident--for all of these people in one way or another stayed there, or had meetings there, or dealt with people who stayed there.

Now, we find ourselves talking about Trotsky's sojourn and the spies sent by Stalin to keep an eye on him and the move to Mexico. Now, we find a papal legate, named Roncalli, involved in moving Jews through the city to Palestine to escape the Nazi's, now we learn of all the Allied and Axis spies roaming around like Keystone Kops and studiously ignoring each other as they rub elbows in the Pera's Oriental Bar. And now, in three days, I was able to finish the last over 150 pages of the book.

But, once more, for the last 50 pages or so, King becomes a bit boring and redundant as he drives home the formation of Israel, the red tape and lack of coordination in moving Jews through the city to Palestine. Yet, at the end, when he describes the city as it looks now, there is a certain pleasure in knowing, that though very different than in its heyday, the Pera Palace, like the Hagia Sophia still stands. And, as one finishes, the horrible divisions of countries and peoples perpertrated by the Nazis and the League of Nations stuns. Particularly, the Palestinian-Israeli situation becomes even more clear and sad.

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Saturday, July 18, 2015

Like Stephanie Plum? You'll Love Davis Way! Go Ahead--Double Dip

Double Strike (Davis Way #3)Double Strike by Gretchen Archer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have you ever sat in a public place reading a book and started to laugh out loud so heartily that people around you not only looked to see what was so funny but also smiled in appreciation that any book could produce such a reaction? Well, in places, this book produced that reaction. Davis Way is a young woman working security for a casino on Beach Road in Biloxi, Ms. She's engaged to a lawyer but her second divorce from her first husband, which she thought successful, apparently was not. She not only has to don various disguises for her job but she also is frequently called upon to disguise herself as the casino owner's wife when said snob does not wish to actually be present at some event, including a parent conference at her son's boarding school in New Hampshire. And, it would appear that there is a money laundering operation going on at the casino. How our girl, Davis, manages to keep all the spinning dinner plates in the air, produces a giddy ride that goes from Mississippi to Alabama to New Orleans and back again.

I've been to all the places described in the book and other than the fact that the boy's school is probably in Haverhill, Ma and not Haverhill, NH, it is pretty accurate--right down to the fact that touring Jefferson Davis' last abode, that belonged to some lady friend, not his wife, takes about three minutes. ( I live about half an hour from Haverhill,NH and equidistant from Montpelier, the site of a marriage other than Way's.)

All of the characters are delightful, even the immature fellow security guy, Baylor. Each in his and her own way make Davis' life easier or more difficult. Particularly funny is her grandmother and her husband but Bianca, the boss' wife is such a hoot as is Misty Jennings, the millionaire Christmas tree farm owner from Alabama. This is Book 3 of a series by Gretchen Archer and, though I'm a reader of several other series, I have to add this one to my repertoire.

It is interesting to note, in light of recent events, Davis' comments on the Alabama State flag having been designed to echo the Confederate flag and that both fly "high and proud, flagpole to flagpole, in each of the sixty-seven counties" of Alabama. One has to wonder how much longer that will be the case. In another part of the book, when she reconnects with fellow with whom she slept in college because she needs his computer hacker abilities in the money laundering case, she states that he is the type who likes to collect cats and name them after celebrity reality stars, including, among others, Bruce Jenner. Well, he has a few new options with that one, I guess.

This is a review of an uncorrected proof ARC provided me by Goodreads for an unbiased review. Unfortunately, the book went on sale on Oct 21, 2014--the day before Davis' wedding and two days before my big birthday bash at the Bellissimo Resort. So nice of Davis to arrange her wedding around my birthday plans--lol ( # Not True )

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Pure Grit is Certainly True Grit

Pure Grit: How WWII Nurses in the Pacific Survived Combat and Prison CampPure Grit: How WWII Nurses in the Pacific Survived Combat and Prison Camp by Mary Cronk Farrell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are watching the current Masterpiece program, The Crimson Field, about nurses serving the British Army during World War I, then this book about real US Army and Navy nurses serving in the Philippines during World War II is a don't miss. Having enlisted in the 1930's and shipped to the Islands, these women had no idea that they would find themselves attacked by the Japanese immediately after the Naval Fleet was sunk at Pearl, stranded when no ships were available to rescue them and MacArthur had been ordered to Australia, evacuated to Corregidor and then shipped back to Manila when that island was also overrun.

Their experiences caring for the thousands of military and civilian victims both before and after their internment as POWs are devastating. All survived though many suffered lifetime physical and emotional trauma once released and brought home. The story of the Government's refusal to treat them at VA hospitals or to allow them any disability compensation is heart-rending. Looking at the pictures of these mostly single young women and reading about several of them in detail made it impossible to realize that they are all dead now and most died in their late 80's and early 90's.

Such a short book, only 133 pages, but such a large story. Mary Cronk Farrell brings these women back to life. She includes a bibliography for further reading, a glossary, a list of all the nurses who served at this time in this place and their home towns, websites for more information, notes on each of the chapters. The reader can stop with this book or if the topic interests them follow some of the pathways provided to delve further. Either way, you'll never be the same or take the women in service for granted.

This was a free uncorrected proof provided me by Goodreads to review.

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Friday, July 10, 2015

Saint Mazie--Amazing Book about an Amazing Lady

Saint MazieSaint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like nothing I've ever read before. A young girl and her younger sister are brought by the eldest sister and her husband to live with them on the Lower East side of Manhattan. Their father is abusive and Rosie and Louis take them from the parents to protect them. The girls, Mazie and Jeanie, are treated like the children Rosie and Louis will never have. Mazie yearns for freedom and fun--she is the wild girl, the good time girl. Jeanie is the good girl. The book tells of how their lives evolve through entries in Mazie's diary and commentary of neighbors and friends and others who come in contact with, primarily, Mazie for this is her story ultimately.

One character who finds her diary many years after her death cannot put it down and feels as if he knows her. By the end of the book, I felt the same way. Not only her but the City in which she lived from the turn of the century, over the War period, into the 20's through the Depression almost to the start of the Second World War. The City of my parents, ending when I came into it in 1942. A place I know during a time I don't but about a woman who could be one of my Aunts, the youngest of the seven, now 92 years old. The City I've been told about--but probably not ALL there was to tell.

Like the diary finder, I didn't want it to end.

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Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Cool Jazz Spy for a Cool Jazz Summer's Day

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In November 1965 at around 530 PM I started to walk across the deserted parking lot of the mall in which I worked, the stores all having closed at 5. My car was one of a scattered few left and I had parked it under one of the tall multiple light fixtures, knowing that I would be leaving with few people around. As I walked rapidly toward the car all of the lights suddenly went out. Rushing I got into the car and locked it, looking around and seeing that not a light of any sort could be seen. Driving home through a darkened town, across the bridge and through another darkened village and on into the country it was unnerving to realize my headlights and those of the few other cars I met were the only lights to be seen. I arrived home to my parents sitting with candles and kerosene lanterns lit and supper cooling on the table. None of us were terribly nervous since it was winter in upstate New York and power outages were not unheard of. By 8 the next morning all had returned to normal, except the fact that the whole North Eastern seaboard had been thrown into darkness for over thirteen hours. Thoughts of possible sabotage were bandied about for awhile but, as often happens in situations like this, it was found that human error in setting a relay in a large power grid caused it to fail.

Imagine this happening today but instead of an electrical power grid being damaged the whole of a country's computer system was hacked and all systems failed. No cell phones, no computers, none of the systems that are computer operated--what systems are not? Banking, gas pumps, cash registers, airline computers, hydroelectric dams, water purification systems --just think how the world has changed since 1965 and how much of the world's activities and systems are computer based. Well, this is what happens in Cool Jazz Spy.

Needless to say all of the major governmental security agencies are put on high alert and the scramble begins to answer several questions--what the hell happened, who is responsible, how do we get things back to normal, and how do we prevent this from happening again?

CIA operative, John Angstrom, recovered from a nervous breakdown and just back from the extraction from Russia of a beautiful Soviet agent is put in charge of assembling a team to tackle these problems. Happily the author refrains from calling it Angstrom's Unit but in my mind I could not resist. The writing is so exciting it is like watching a fast paced spy thriller movie. Each of the characters is so well sketched physically and his and her personalities so defined that it is easy to create mental images of them--the sound of the voice, the lift of the brow or lip in a smile or grimace. And the locations--I think were I ever to go to St Petersburg, Russia I would recognize the Sennaya Ploschad instantly--down to the canal, the line of parked cars, the arrangement of the buildings, even the exact sniper's balcony.

There are references throughout to various jazz pieces and the musicians who play them. Except in a few places these references didn't enhance the action for me, but they also did not detract from it. Jazz is not a favorite musical form of mine but skipping blithely past the asides didn't alter the work.

There is a lot of Computerese in several places---mostly in the various meetings of the agency personnel for updates and explanations of what happened and how the malware is being identified and either destroyed or over-written. I love the poor guy who has to address the meetings--known as Q-Directorate--homage to the gadget fella in Bond, I suppose. Several times he worries that he is overloading the minds of his audience and wonders if they are all able to follow. Well, not this reader, by the second sentence my eyes glazed over, but I read on just in case I could glean some meaning from all the gibberish ( to me ) and I did get the gist of what happened. That again, was good enough. If you are a computer nerd you'll love that part, if not, like this dinosaur, you'll skim it and move on. Again, no damage to the action.

All in all, a good story with a hero who engineers a terrific operation with all kinds of excitement and success. Some computer science for those who like and understand it. A bit of romance for the hero and his defector, Anna. And some jazz reference and a beautiful cello reference for the musically inclined. Bartusiak, the author, even gives a discography at the back and a bit of blurb on the works of several of the big names in Cool Jazz.

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Friday, July 3, 2015

Stella Adler--Teacher of Thespians

Stella! Mother of Modern ActingStella! Mother of Modern Acting by Sheana Ochoa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The subtitle of Stella by Sheana Ochoa is Mother of Modern Acting and that, indeed, is the way the subject was familiar to me. One of my favorite actresses, Elaine Stritch, often referred to her in interviews and it made me curious to know just how this woman, often associated with Brando and Malden, actually carried on her lessons. When the book dealt with that aspect of Adler's life it was engrossing and fascinating. Even the opening chapters of Stella's family background in Yiddish Theatre was interesting, since often in my youth my Mother, born the same year as Stella, would point out a movie actor or actress such as Maria Ouspenskaya or Edward G Robinson or John Garfield and another man whose name I cannot remember as having been actors from the Yiddish Theatre. It meant nothing to me and I certainly had no knowledge of this flourishing theatre district on 2nd Avenue. I did know that my own neighborhood of Chelsea had been a similar theatrical district and that Cavanaugh's Restaurant right around the corner had been quite a place in that hey-day. For these reasons the beginning of the book held my attention.

As the years approached the Depression and on through the War and into the 50's my interest waned. During these years it wasn't clear exactly what Stella was doing theatrically--a bit of study, some teaching, travel to Russia to observe the theatrical legacy of her family background, horrendous treatment of a husband who worshiped her and a great deal of political activism. Interesting but not directly related to her legacy as the Mother of Modern Acting. As a matter of fact mixed in with all this activity was her failure on stage herself and her less than stellar success as a director.

Although she seems to have been quite the character her personality as it comes through the page did not appeal to me. That, however, wasn't really a problem, since it was not her private life or flaws or type of person she was in private relationships that drew me to her but rather her performance as a teacher and the effect she had on her students. Perhaps, because I am a retired teacher, I wanted to see how she did it. How did she relate and how did she impart her passion for theatre? Was it in any way the same as my methods of imparting my passion for science to high school kids? I'd have to say there are many similarities and when the book in its later chapters dealt with that I was once more drawn in and happy that I'd stuck with it through the boring, to me, global history.

Each chapter had a quote by a family member or someone who was involved in some way with Adler. As a reader I wish there were more depth given to those involvements. Did James Coburn study with her, how extensive was her theatrical contact with Arthur Miller. Not gossip--there was enough of that--her incestuous adulation of her father was more than I needed to know, though I suppose it was the root of many of her male relationships. Just more in depth revelations of the performances of her students and how she helped them develop into the performers they became.

It is a well written book, and if like me, the middle pages aren't that engrossing, I'd advise the reader to read the chapter heading quotes and move on to the years she spent in the classroom at the end of the book. By the way, on page 157, you might want to note that Myrna Loy's co-star in the Thin Man movies is not DICK Powell, but rather WILLIAM Powell!

This book was a Goodreads Giveaway, which I misplaced and am reviewing a year after receiving it. Mea Culpa.

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

New Orleans--The Empire of Sin

As one of the Northerners who have on occasion made pilgrimage to the Crescent City in search of its Jazz and Creole culture, I was drawn to the history of the reputation as a sinful open town. Notice I said the history and not the actuality of the sin and openess. The book has not disappointed. From the late years of the 19th century to the first two decades of the 20th century, Gary Krist fills the pages with descriptions of the reputable and disreputable citizens of this fascinating place. Early on, rather than trying to eradicate the brothels and their madams, taverns and their owners, jazz and its musicians, the good people of New Orleans decided that these things could continue but be confined to a designated area of the town--far away from the Uptown respectable neighborhoods. Since the Mayor at the time was a man by the name of Story the area soon became known as Storyville and since an entrepreneur of sinful activities, an Irishman from the rough Irish Channel neighborhood, rose to prominence within its boundaries, he, Tom Anderson, became known as the Mayor of Storyville. From the wide open days of unbridled sex and debauchery where white and black races not only mixed freely but where such mixture was encouraged to the pre-war determination on the part of reformists to eliminate such rowdiness the book is a page turner. How can one not wish for a politician to say of another that he'd rather be "a maggot in the suppurating carcass of an insane mule than be " his political opponent! Such passion and command of the language. How not be intrigued by the characters such as Bird Leg Nora, or Snaggle Mouf Mary, or Stack O. Dollars ? As society became more and more intolerant there is the sadness of the Jim Crow laws that suppressed the black citizens of the city along with anything associated with them, including the evolving musical scene and the dances that rose from it. These laws also caused hardship among Creoles, who though racist themselves in that they considered themselves part of the white society or at least in a strata above black society now found themselves, despite their affluence and refinement, tossed by these laws into the same restricted lifestyle of the black laborer and mill hand. Even as this change was enforced moments of levity are described, such as the fleeting passage of Carrie Nation through Storyville. Welcomed to the City by the current Mayor she was informed that he wished her to refrain from her usual saloon smashing---to which she replied that as an instrument of God's hands she could make no promises and wanted to know if the Mayor would refuse the Lord His right to smash. Calmly, he informed her that the Lord would not find any interference but his officers would certainly prevent her smashing. On she went visiting brothels and saloons, giving speeches and smashing a couple of whiskey glasses at Anderson's--where she asked him if he wanted to make something of it--but though determined as ever, she seems to have made little impact in Storyville. Something that until recent years has been swept under the rug in this country is that long before Hitler made headlines using eugenics to create a master race the idea had many followers in this country. In 1908 as part of the effort to clean up New Orleans two sisters who headed up the Milne Asylum for Destitute Girls "advocated for the forced sterilization of children who showed signs of a future of crime, prostitution or alcoholism". Something that was done, not only in the South but also in my home State of Vermont--here on the young women of the Abneki Indian tribe. Krist recounts the involvement of the Federal government in cleaning up the City as the United States entered the First World War. After all, military men could not be effective if drunk or riddled with a venereal disease. Best to eliminate the sources of such debilitating conditions. By the end of the War, thirty years of trying to establish decency and orderliness seemed to be successful. The reformists could start to relax. Alas, just as they did, ax murders that appeared to be the work of a single maniac began to spring up throughout the metropolis. In the end, despite much investigation and supposition, when they stopped as suddenly as they began, the murders faded into the archives as unsolved and at this late date, over 100 years later, too cold to ever be more than mysteries. By 1930, the city had changed. Storyville was gone and most of the characters of the time had died or moved away. But the drugs, prostitution, gambling, drinking, music have not gone. The music that once was considered immoral is now part of the draw for people like me who travel to attend Jazzfest, Quarterfest, or any of the many other " fests" that happen throughout the year. The wide open times are gone but the vices can be satisfied with a little asking around. There is the intermingling of races again though perhaps not with the same nonchalance as before the 20th century and its oppression and then '60's rebellion but it is not strained and uncomfortable. As I read the book, I kept thinking that despite all the energy expended to change the town, so much of what made New Orleans unique in the 19th century does not lie very far from the surface in these early days of the 21st and at the end the author expresses this same feeling. Besides the fun of telling and reading of this time in history, Krist adds extensive bibliography, notes, suggested readings and suggested jazz recordings. I've read some of the fictional books he mentions although one I just could not get my head around was A Confederacy of Dunces. Others I am anxious to read but as he has said, don't have an unlimited time in which to read everything I've put on my TBR list. I would suggest, however, that if you love New Orleans, its music, its people, its ambiance then you should definitely make time to read this one. You won't be disappointed. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."