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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

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Laborious Slog--The Typewriter's Tale

The Typewriter's TaleThe Typewriter's Tale by Michiel Heyns


It was just too hard to really get the rhythm of this book. Run on sentences almost too hard to follow and characters not at all appealing. After about a week of seriously trying to make progress, it was just not worth the effort. Unless one is an absolute lover of the convoluted writing of the 19th century liberally sprinkled with polysyllabic words, this is not the book for you.
This is a review of an ARC provided by BookBrowse in exchange for an honest review.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Loyalty in Death--Written 16 Years Ago--Could Have Been Yesterday!! :(

Loyalty in Death (In Death, #9)Loyalty in Death by J.D. Robb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Futuristic New York, Detective Dallas and husband, Roarke continue to involve the reader in the grisly crimes of the gritty streets. Peabody's brother comes to town and we learn a bit about her background through his inadvertent involvement in the most recent crime spree. This book hits very close to home with the intentional bombings of New York landmarks . Pthe olice anxiously attempt to identify the bombers through high tech use of computers, especially Roarke's illegal non-traceable ones capable of hacking through any " walls" and passwords to get Dallas and her crew the information she needs to determine the next target before the perps blow it up. The book was written before the Twin Towers were destroyed and so, sadly, they are possible sites to defend. The story keeps your heart racing and the mystery of who is holding the city for ransom is satisfactorily secret practically to the last bloody scene, in which Dallas and Roarke are seconds away from annihilation. One of the best of the series.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

An Irish Country Christmas--Perfect For This or Any Time of Year

An Irish Country ChristmasAn Irish Country Christmas by Patrick Taylor
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It is Christmastime in little Ballybucklebo and the doctors, Fingal Flahertie O' Reilly and his young assistant, Barry Laverty find themselves in the thick of things as usual. A former classmate of O'Reilly's has set up a practice in town and employing less than scientifically proven practices causing stress to both of our heroes--first for the possibly harmful but definitely non-helpful methods but also, in Barry's case, worry that the small town cannot support three full time doctors. There are the usual sniffles and coughs of the winter season with which to deal but also a home delivery of a breech birth and the discovery that the local dressmaker is less a heartless employer than she presents herself. Then, too, there is the burning of put away Christmas money of the widow Eileen who struggles to put something by for the three children she wishes Santa to visit.
Other than the professional, we find our men in the throes of romantic quandaries as well. Barry's girl, Patricia, who has embarked on a three year course of study in far off Cambridge, England appears to be quite engrossed in her new studies, her new friends and the offerings of an academic town and its proximity to London, where even more cultural and social opportunities exist. She seems less than Barry would hope in keeping her promise to return to Ireland for Christmas. This worries Barry that there may be another man and he wonders if he should perhaps think about finding a new interest, such as the young teacher in town. He is heart-sore and anguished, believing Patricia is the one and she, perhaps, not feeling the same about him.
Fingal, on the other hand, long a widower, who is still deeply in love with Dierdre, finds himself wondering if he should take up the pretty clear offer of a second chance with Caitlin O'Halloran, the love of his student days. He'd been dating when he met Dierdre and she, Kitty, had never married. Now, she is back in his life and he is enjoying her company. Should he commit more deeply? Is it time to move on?
Lastly, there are all the community dos--the big pageant where the children reenact the Christmas story--I laughed out loud for several minutes as that rolled out before my mind's eye! O' Reilly plays Santa passing out gifts to each of Ballybucklebo's chisellers. ( My Dad used that term for us kids and I never understood it. I couldn't figure out how we had chiselled anything. Through these stories I realize it is an Irish expression for kids! He must have gotten it from his Irish born mother, who died before I was born.) And the marvelous Kinky, Mrs Kinkaid, provides some of the food on the baquet tables.
Not to be forgotten, there are the two more fancy gatherings--party at Ballybucklebo House, home of the local Marquis and the party at the Councillor's, Bertie and Flo Bishops. These on Christmas morning after roast goose and Midnight Mass the night before. All culminates with Christmas dinner at One Main, where Kinky presents a roast turkey, a roast ham and all the fixings. No wonder Fingal needed his Santa pants let out and Kinky tried, to no avail to put him on a diet before all the holiday feast began.
And so, the year of 1964 is coming to an end for our friends. The Canadians have a new flag--the maple leaf--I remember when that happened. Catholic Masses would soon be said in the vernacular--a decision I always hated-loving the elegance of the Latin Mass. What will 1965 bring for them? I cannot wait to see in the next installment of Patrick Taylor's wonderful series.

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Far Beyond Big Brother--Burning Bright

Burning BrightBurning Bright by Nicholas Petrie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The prologue of this book is twelve pages long. By the time I finished I knew I liked this girl, June Cassidy. She has grit and intelligence and is an independent competent woman. My kind of girl. Didn't know Peter Ash from Petrie's previous book, the Drifter, but again, as he escaped a bear by climbing a redwood sapling and then encountered June high in the canopy, it was all in for the quest.
Each chapter is written from the perspective of either one or the other of them and, in time, from the perspective of other characters. This is not to say the chapter is narrated by the character but rather that the character's background and action is revealed as the plot develops. It is clever and smooth and keeps widening the story.
Although Peter is suffering from PTSD and gets extremely claustrophobic and panicky when confined, even for a short time and although this condition definitely has an effect on the action, it is not the main theme of the story. The main theme is the development of an algorithm of artificial intelligence which is capable of growing and becoming ever more capable of making decisions and solving problems without any human involvement. Obviously, such a tool is extremely desirable to many entities, government, private entities without a clear description. Its creator is June's mother, who has died in a hit and run and whose home and office have both been cleared out by agents, who have also attempted to kidnap June. So she is on the run and Peter finds her in the redwood canopy after being confronted by a grizzly on a casual hike.
While this plot is engrossing and the pairing of these two in an attempt to sort out who is who and what is what and where is safe, it is the whole concept of such an algorithm that kept me reading. My parents were born in 1901 and 1903--they saw much in technological development in their lives. Except for nuclear power I cannot remember them ever expressing fear about any of the advances and even then they weren't paralyzed with fear and had no problem with nuclear energy. I was born in 1942 and nothing that I've experienced has caused me anything but wonder at the advancements. Taught science, including physics and chemistry for years, and remember the first time we had computers in the school--writing our own programs with flow charts and cassette tapes.
But, what that virtual highway, zoom,zoom ( remember that commercial? I had no idea what it meant at the time--I think it was Cysceo ?) would lead to was so beyond my comprehension, I was fascinated. But now, I feel fearful. I remember the Northeast blackout and understood the part computers played in it but never realized how much more powerful these things could become. That part of the book was like science fiction, only it is science but it isn't fiction! Where will it lead, I wonder?
This is a review of an uncorrected proof, provided me by Goodreads in a giveaway in exchange for a review.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Endurance, Compromise and Love in The Castle of Water

Castle of Water: A NovelCastle of Water: A Novel by Dane Huckelbridge
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Two young people heading into the next phase of their lives with no idea of what the future will bring. Not unusual. Hopeful, nervous with a touch of joy. The human condition. One, a young woman, not yet 30, with her new husband. Leaving Tahiti in a small plane for a couple of days to explore the final resting place of a favorite singer, Jacques Brel. The other, a man, mid-thirties, in a business suit, having rushed right to the airport from the office he has decided to escape. He wanted to be an artist, he followed a safer path to Wall Street. Now, he, too is taking a side trip to explore the final resting place of Gauguin.
During the flight they encounter stormy weather, the pilot decides to skirt around it, the plane is struck by lightening and goes down. The pilot is killed instantly. The would-be artist, Barry Bleecker finds himself swimming distance from a small island, which he manages to reach. It would seem he is the only survivor and though he is at first at a loss, he soon decides to make shelter and hope for rescue by a passing boat or an overhead plane.
In the meantime, the bride, Sophie Ducel, holds her dying husband in her arms in the fuselage of the plane, until he is wrenched from her arms by a shark and taken deep into the sea. She finds an inflatable raft with a bag of survival materials and pulls herself out of the sinking plane. Within days, delirious, she washes ashore and is found by Barry.
And so begins the true story of these unlikely castaways. How they manage to survive, physically, emotionally and mentally in total isolation on an island small enough to walk around on an evening stroll is an absorbing story. It is full of all the stages of a developing relationship--getting to know you, disagreements, compromise, thoughtful gifts, humor, teasing, insults--culminating in a partnership of depth and caring. As the reader looking in you are sensitive to their fear, frustration, hope and love and you care deeply for them and root for their survival and ultimate rescue.
I read the book in one day and at the end, understood the title and was content with the final result. Though a bit sad.
This is a review of an Advance Uncorrected Proof provided for that purpose by Book Browse.

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Sunday, November 27, 2016

Frank and Sarah Are On Their Honeymoon! Who Will Solve the Mysterious Murder on St Nicholas Ave?

Murder on St. Nicholas AvenueMurder on St. Nicholas Avenue by Victoria Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A delightful read as usual. My mom was born in 1901 in NYC so these books bring back stories she and my Gram told me as a girl. Also, having grown up in Manhattan and rode the El ect, I can see the locales in my mind. This is a particularly fun tale since Sarah and Frank are off in France and Italy on their honeymoon and so are not available when a Mrs. O'Neill shows up on the doorstep of their new home in Harlem looking for help. Seems her daughter has been arrested for the murder of her husband and Mrs. O'Neill knows she is innocent.
Upon investigation it appears the victim was a wife beating con artist, so good riddance to bad rubbish. BUT, he has been murdered and if the widow is innocent, then who did it? It falls to Maeve, Gino and, amazingly, Elizabeth Decker, and even more amazingly, Felix Decker, with a bit of input from Mrs. Malloy, to solve the mystery. Frank and Sarah will be amazed upon their return! A business may be in the future after all.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A Perfect Gem of a Book

Hag-SeedHag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When entering college it was a toss-up--major in biology or major in English. Opted for biology and taught it happily for over 30 years. Now wish to be reincarnated and teach Shakespeare the next time around. Every English teacher should read this book! Felix staging The Tempest with a cast of incarcerated medium security prisoners is a wonder in motivation and success. That is one plot, the other is Felix's own true life coping with loss that is two-fold. Like Prospero he has been usurped by someone he trusted and for twelve years has nursed the resentment of his plight, while also mourning the loss of his three year old daughter. She died of meningitis at three years old just shortly before his dismissal as the Director of a well-known community theatre of some renown. How he plots and achieves his revenge is ingenious and as absorbing as his molding of a motley cast into a coherent team in a well formed version of The Tempest.

For those who need it, and I was one, there is a review of the original Tempest in the back of the book. That is where I started so that Shakespeare's original was fresh in my mind.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."


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Monday, November 21, 2016

An Exhaustive and Exhausting Biography of Diane Arbus, Photographer

Diane Arbus: Portrait of a PhotographerDiane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer by Arthur Lubow
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Groan--600 pages about a woman who in life must have been a drain on anyone she chose to attach herself to or who felt inclined to be involved with. She is the second prominent New Yorker of Russian Jewish heritage who had no problem with incest--in her case, her brother, in the case of Stella Adler, her father! Throughout her life, from the earliest days of her life it would seem, this woman for whatever reason either felt unappreciated, because of lack of praise or because what praise she received she either felt was false or not deserved. There seemed to be no pleasing her.
Although she is considered to be, in some circles, one of the earliest photographers to have helped establish photography as an art form, she constantly was insecure and for most of her life claimed to hate her work--the product as well as the application. How wearing. It was interesting to me that she never actually had a relationship she felt fulfilled by and that those, who were supposedly her greatest personal emotional support, actually had partners who were more important to them and were constants in their lives. She, on the other hand, was an intermittent tangent to their lives and in the case of the males, an occasional bedmate.It was also interesting to note that most of them lived at a significant geographical distance from her.
As her personal life is revealed one finds that she functioned in circles that had the stench and muddiness of effluence of a septic system drainage. I was living in Manhattan, though 15 years younger, as she was walking the same streets and living in the same general neighborhoods. In my youthful innocence I knew nothing of what was going on behind those facades by which I walked, thank goodness!
Though her life was revealed in some detail at times and with a great deal of analysis by the author, little really was said about her relationship to her two daughters with Allan Arbus. She married him in her teens and they started a photography studio which was primarily involved in fashion magazine layouts--other than newspaper or journalistic photography, the only sphere in which the camera and its users could make a living. She had the eye to create the layout, Allan the technical ability and interest in the actual photography. In time this would change and he would move to California with a new love and become an actor, best known as the shrink in M*A*S*H, and she would become the photographer. She focused on the demimonde of peep shows, female impersonators, freaks, side shows etc and it is mostly for these photos she became famous.

One of the major drawbacks of the book is the extensive descriptions of many of her photos without the actual photos to look at. Here too the author spends extraordinary pains to analyze the meaning of the subjects and how they related to Arbus, her inner self and her self image. It would have been nice to have the pictures to analyze for oneself and then read the author's interpretation. I did look at some of the shots after reading the book but at that point was really too exhausted to want to spend any more time on the subject. In my opinion, rather than relating to these people, whether the freaks or the upper class couples or the families or the children, I think they made her feel superior to them and therefore at least momentarily she felt better about herself. She was cruel to setting up her photos--making a small 4 year old stand at a distance in the snowy Central Park until the happy little girl dissolved in frightened, exhausted tears and gave her the photo she wanted. How nice she had that kind of power. Or the lengthy photo sessions in the yard or the living room of a family's home that wore the husbands to anger and the wives to an anxiety to keep the peace so that she could show her belief that there were cracks in the surface of their apparent serenity and happiness.
The best insight to her life, her attitudes on behavior and experience, her relationships to both friends, partners, subjects is provided by the interviews with her therapist. Interestingly, though she might have benefited early on from therapy, no one seems to have recommended it, although it seems she did find it laughable. It was her long-time liason, Marvin Israel, who like her enjoyed manipulating people who got her to go for help. He did it primarily because, though he maintained a relationship with her, he made it quite clear that he loved his wife and had no intention of relegating her to second place. When Diane became too needy and was calling him incessantly he finally pawned her off to a therapist. Not completely, of course, but at least partially. He also, in as similar an uncaring manner as she, carried on a relationship with her older daughter. Many of her friends felt that this as well as her despondency over aging and no longer looking younger than her years, as well as financial stress, as well as an ennui resulting from an inability to find something new in photography all contributed to her suicide. Yes, I should think that would do it to someone as fragile and self absorbed as she.
Lest this review seems to make the book unworthy of reading, it is important to note that I did read it, every one of the 600 pages. The thing that kept me going was the history of photography, especially as it became recognized as a creative expression as much as a document of life as it passes day to day, year to year. Also, in addition to Arbus, there were a plethora of photographers working throughout the world and their approach to the technical and artistic aspects of presentation as well as choice of subjects was as wide and varied. That part of the book was incredibly absorbing and, if truth be known, was a major reason for my interest in entering this giveaway.
So, though I knew less than nothing about Diane Arbus, other than the name of a woman who was mentioned in the newspapers I read while finishing high school and going to college , I now know more than I wanted about her and find I don't think I would have liked her very much. But, I also know more about her output, more about the people working in the field at the same time, more about how magazines worked at the time, more about how exhibits are designed at museums and more about the field of photography. There are ways I will look at the people and objects I photograph and the settings in which they are found that never occurred to me before. Lighting and distance and composition which have always been more or less instinctive will now at times, not always, be more thought out. It will be interesting to see if there is any improvement.

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Kit Carson? He Had THREE Wives?

Kit Carson & His Three Wives: A Family HistoryKit Carson & His Three Wives: A Family History by Marc Simmons
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of those books that I pick up when on our annual two month X-C road trip across the USA. We visit all types of historic sites and out of the way places and on this day we had gone to Taos, NM--one of those " beautiful " places with art galleries and boutiques and bohemian cafes that also happens to have an historic pueblo, beautiful Catholic church and the modest adobe home in which Kit Carson spent his family life with his wife, Josefa Jarmillo, the mother of eight of his children.

I'm not sure how many of the young people of this country or the modern Easterner knows of this man. He was one of the early mountain men, trappers and hunters of the pre-Civil War West. He hailed from Missouri but as many young men of the time, he found his way on the Santa Fe Trail to New Mexico and Arizona and Colorado. He gained fame as a trapper but became best known as the guide who led Fremont into California on at least three expeditions authorized by the Washington government to scout out the Spanish there and evaluate the English presence in Oregon Territory.

Not many people in the West required written works about the exploits of Carson and his ilk, but the folks in the East were greatly excited to hear about the savage red men and the white men who encountered him in the vast open spaces of the mysterious mountains and plains beyond the Mississippi. Just as in the present, newspaper reporters and paperback writers, who ventured into this territory to gather information, found that the more titillating the tale the more likely the sales of their works. As a result the stories of these adventurers were exaggerated and enhanced. Carson, himself illiterate, was amazed at the embellishments added to the stories of his activities. He himself, by most accounts from family and friends, was a man of great humility and devotion to duty as well as compassion and gentleness. Yet, the image of the man that has come down through the years is almost heroic beyond belief. The story of his private family life, as in most cases of his contemporaries, is practically non-existent and certainly, the story of his wives even more shadowed. What information about what came down within the first hundred years of his exploits painted him as one of the heroes of Westward expansion and worthy of great respect and regard. The erosion of this type of historical pride in the 1960's and onward, has further removed Kit Carson from the national memory.

In an effort to rectify this situation, Marc Simmons has spent almost forty years researching not only the facts of Carson's work but also the story of his marriage to three very disparate women over the course of his life. Two of them were Native American : Waa-Nibe, an Arapaho, to whom he was married by Indian culture of simply co-habiting after gifts to her father, gave him two daughters before her untimely death three years into the marriage. His second marriage, probably to provide a mother to his young daughters, was to a Cheyanne, Making-Out Road, who by all indications was quite a handful and who, after fourteen months, divorced him. It was not until he left the trapping, nomadic way of life that he finally married Josefa, a teen girl to his mid-aged self. She was his wife for 25 years and bore him eight children.

The story of these women, and of his children, male and female places Christfer Carson in a much different and softer setting than most of the other writings about him. Probably because there IS such a large assortment of books and articles dealing with his work for the Government as scout and courier, as soldier in the Civil War, as Indian Agent and primary architect of the Navajo version of the Trail of Tears, these aspects of his life are not dealt with in very great depth. In that way, this book, in my estimation, does what the author wishes to achieve: it rounds out the record, it shows an aspect of Carson's life not usually explored. But, also in my opinion, if coming new to learning of Carson, read some more of the record. He certainly is worthy of regard and respect for much of his life's work, but it cannot be overlooked that the Navajo and Apache of New Mexico and Arizona do not love this man. The story of Bosque Redondo is as heart wrenching as that of the Trail of Tears and Carson was the man who used the scorched earth tactics that resulted in the horror of that march and internment.

As, with all men who attain great renown, or at least most, Carson is not all good. On the other hand, he is not all bad. He is human. Do his errors, his faults, his foibles, outweigh his achievements and devotion to family and country? Depends on your viewpoint. But, whatever you decide, the story of life in New Mexico, the position and influence of women in its evolution and in the life of this man is interesting and worth the read.

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Thursday, November 10, 2016

Amanda Knox and Murder in Perugia

The Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda KnoxThe Fatal Gift of Beauty: The Trials of Amanda Knox by Nina Burleigh
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Told without all the hoopla surrounding the original media reports about the American college girl and her Italian lover purported to be sex game playing murderers. The backgrounds of the three central figures of the story: the American college student, Amanda Knox, her Italian boyfriend of less than two weeks, Raffaele Sollecito. and the British student and victim, Meredith Kercher, are all presented. How they came to be in Perugia, Italy and their relationships to each other and other students as well as some of the other residents of the town is also described providing the setting and cast of this almost fantasy-like tale of supposed sexual, drug-driven perversion resulting in murder.

Nina Burleigh goes farther than most of the other books, videos, Netflix specials etc that try to explain the crime, the trial and the conviction, appeal, overturn of conviction, and incarceration of two young college students away from home, and the death of a third. She speaks of the Etruscan history of the area, the Italian legal system, the various levels of police and judicial strata, the attitude toward women, toward foreigners and toward black men. The later attitude becomes important because a fourth person, a black man by the name of Rudy Guede was found guilty of the murder and is serving time in jail for it. His story, too, is presented thoroughly and clearly. Yet, another black man, plays a role in the saga," Patrick " Lamumba. He was Amanda's employer in Perugia and, at one point, she incriminates him in the murder.

The families of Amanda, Rafaelle and Meredith also play a part in the story as do the lawyers and media reporters. The confusion of investigation, analysis of evidence, interrogation of the various ,witnesses adds to the drama of the situation. But, in the end, I think Burleigh's conclusion is accurate. Rudy killed Meredith during a burglary when she came home and caught him in the apartment. Amanda was her own worst enemy by her attitude and seemingly evasive and / or contradictory statements, but she was not in any way involved in the murder, nor was Rafaelle. Yet, neither, especially Amanda, will ever be seen universally, in Britain, in Italy or even in sections of America, as totally innocent. Most probably due to media coverage but also because of the egos of the prosecutor and others who had come up with a theory of the murder, which they shared widely and which they, therefore, would not relinquish no matter how strong the evidence against it.
This is a review of a copy provided by Blogging for Books for that purpose.

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Saturday, November 5, 2016

What She Fears--To What Does the Title Refer???

What She Fears (Adam Kaminski, #4)What She Fears by Jane Gorman
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although this mystery can be read as a stand alone, it may be better to have started with the first rather than the fourth book in the series. Adam Kaminski is a Philadelphia detective who flies to Galway in an effort to surprise his fiancé, Sylvia, who is there working on some project at the University. She is less than thrilled at his arrival, which I would have thought would alert him to some problem in their relationship but he seems to have no problem with her indifference. Strange.
He, on his way to this disappointing reunion, stumbles over the corpse of young female apparently strangled to death on a secluded though heavily used pathway between town and campus. He's accosted by an archeology professor who arrives at the scene in hysterics and accuses him of her murder--so enters one of the main characters, Sean Rourke, an American. Also at the scene is Detective Superintendent, Isabel Sayers.

Having set the plot --who killed the victim, Moira Walsh and why? In a convoluted way, the investigation leads to various members of the University staff as well as a few members of the community council and tourism board. None of them are very well developed and the author drops many strings along the way--introduces situations and then just drops them. It was very frustrating. I found that when she had her characters interacting the action moved well, but if there was no conversation things just sort of died.

For example, Adam and Isabel drive out to visit Moira's parents to try to get a handle on what Moira was like and with whom she was involved. The mother is all positive about her daughter and devastated by her loss but the father seems less complimentary to her character. It seemed a strange dichotomy, yet when Adam and Isabel are back in the car they do not discuss the interview and their take on it. Why?

In another scene, Adam observes on of the suspect, Conn O'Flaherty meeting someone on a darkened street. He cannot make out who he met or what transpired. When asked Conn explodes at his being questioned but the meeting is never explained at all.

We meet Isabel's brother several times--an Irish history buff. She is ashamed of her background, he wishes to preserve it and is proud of it. He's upset at the different takes. Is this where the title comes from--what she fears? I haven't a clue. But I'd sure like to know how the daughter she gave up for adoption fits in and why that plotline is not developed more.

All in all, it's an okay mystery--but none of the characters, including the victim, are very well developed. Other than Sean, who is kind of a cold fish, their motivations are not very clear. The solution to the killing was pretty pedestrian considering the hints that might have made it more important than it was. But maybe that is how it is in real crime--nothing earth shattering or nefarious. I'm going to read the first in this series to see if knowing Adam from the beginning would have made a difference.

I received this book from Goodreads for a review.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Exhaustive and Exhausting-The Russian Revolution in Petrograd

Caught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the EdgeCaught in the Revolution: Petrograd, Russia, 1917 – A World on the Edge by Helen Rappaport
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A long book that was as chaotic and confusing as the events it portrayed. Difficult to read because of excessive repetition of place names and numbers of people marching, shouting, killing, looting, starving, raving, randomly shooting and then seemingly returning to " normal " before starting all over again. The narrative is interspersed with quotes from various observers of the actions during the February 1917 uprising followed by observations during the finality of the October revolt. Most of the observations are either by Red leaning foreign correspondents and photographers sent by their publications to report on the events, or by people on a mission to " help " one faction or another such as Mrs Pankhurst come to organize the Russian women who have now achieved freedom. There are also letters between diplomats and their governments or letters to family back home.
So many questions--where are the young girls displaced from the elegant Smolny Institute? Were they murdered --were their bodies among the many described as fallen on the street or in the hallways of various palaces? How is it that the streets are swollen with soldiers who left the front ( there is after all a war going on) yet other trains are headed to the front with soldiers? Where are the trucks laden with food and arms coming from and where did the food go if people are lined up in the streets listlessly waiting for food at the shops? How does one determine that there are thousands marching in the streets and not hundreds? With all the shooting and so many loose canons among these throngs how is it that in one instance there are only seven killed, in another only eleven?
One thing for certain--there was chaos and anarchy. The only ones doing any successful planning were the Bolsheviks, even with struggles for power within the ranks. The resentment against money was great and reminds me of the present day criticism of the 1% in general and the Koch Brothers in particular. Also similar, demands for higher wages and less work--increases to three and four times their wages and reduction to a four hour work day was not sufficient to satisfy these revolutionaries. Murder, rape, looting were all on the rise--rape on college campuses, ambush of policemen sitting in patrol cars, looting and riots in the streets--all very familiar.
But, one must wonder, is the result of the Russian Revolution--suppression of speech and religion, total central government control --to be the result here, too? And if that comes, will it happen in the span of less than a year? 2017 is the publication date of this book, to mark the centennial of that Revolution--will it mark, with a new President, no matter which, the beginning of ours?
This is a review of an advanced readers edition from Book Browse. As such it lacked the numerous illustrations that would probably have enhanced the reading of this very long book, at times both repetitious and boring.

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Thanks for the Memories--Carol Burnett

In Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the SandboxIn Such Good Company: Eleven Years of Laughter, Mayhem, and Fun in the Sandbox by Carol Burnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a delightful book--no scandal, no smut, no personal revelations or attacks--just what the title states " Such Good Company"! A small quick read that reviews skits and production numbers, guests and regulars, crew and directors, music and laughs that made up eleven years of Carol Burnett's weekly show. Scattered pictures throughout that helped to bring the show back to mind and in many cases to make the reader laugh again. And you do, even just the written word, brings a laugh out loud several times.

Anyone who loved her show will enjoy reliving it with her down to earth presentation--anyone too young to have seen the show will be drawn to YouTube to see what she is talking about or to the DVD sets available. Though some things are dated for the most part the fun and laughter and music and dance of the time still more than entertain. You'll be glad you've spent your time together with Carol and her friends.

"I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."


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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Ruso and Tilla Are Back From Gaul and Find Unrest Among the New Briton Recruits

Semper Fidelis: A Novel of the Roman EmpireSemper Fidelis: A Novel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gaius Ruso, Medicus to the Twentieth Legion, and his wife, Briton barbarian, Tilla are once more in Britannia. Though Ruso's commission had expired while he was on sick leave at home in Gaul, his friend and fellow Medicus, Valens, pulled some strings and got him reinstated. The two find themselves in Eboracum ( modern day York ) awaiting a visit from Emperor Hadrian and his Empress, Sabrina. The Legion has had its ranks increased by the recent recruitment of young Britons but there seems to be something strange happening among them. One recruit has died mysteriously, another jumps from a roof in front of Ruso for no apparent reason and yet another is in the sick bay with a very serious self-inflicted wound to one of his arms.
Ruso's suspicions are aroused by his subordinate's attributing the death of the first recruit as accidental despite bodily injuries that point to a serious beating. When he finds the written report supporting his suspicions he begins to ask questions.
He is thwarted at every turn in his investigation and when the commanding officer of the recruits is found murdered he finds himself the accused murderer. Stripped of his commission once more he is told that Tilla is to be returned to her family since they are now divorced. How the two of them manage to solve the mystery and make a choice where they will be stationed next is an exciting tale of whitewash and scapegoat tactics to keep the peace in the Legion and protect its officers. All is resolved in the end but not without Tilla's headstrong disobedience to her husband and the Tribune who is his superior, which, as always, adds to the confusion before the solution.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Savage Spring--a Malin Fors Mystery

Savage SpringSavage Spring by Mons Kallentoft
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The fourth in Kallentoft's Malin Fors series. This is one series that should be read from the first book forward, since Malin's life and her involvement with her estranged husband, Janne, her teen-aged daughter, Tove, as well as her parents all evolve and develop during the course of the series.

Each book, however, involves a new murder. In this one, a bomb is detonated in one of the squares of Linkopping, Sweden, where Malin is a police detective. A widow and her twin six year old daughters are killed in the explosion and the force is thrown into chaos in the immediacy of the event. Who or what group is responsible? Are there other bombs waiting to be detonated? What or whom was the target?

As the investigation gets under way, Malin must deal with the death of her mother and a family revelation that stuns her. The mystery is at the heart of the story but heavily interwoven is the story of various parents, choices they've made as parents and the impact those choices have had on their offspring. As usual, Kallentoft ties the clues together to solve the mystery but leaves the reader with many things to ponder after the fact. Also, he continues to use the voices of the deceased to drive the action, though in this case there is less use of the perpetrators voice than in the three cases preceding this one.

Having read the four seasons of the year, I'm now on to the fifth season, the name of Malin Fors number four.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

Natasha Lost in Natalie

Natasha: The Biography of Natalie WoodNatasha: The Biography of Natalie Wood by Suzanne Finstad
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interesting but more repetitive than necessary. The circumstances surrounding her death in 1981 were reexamined in 2011 and no new conclusions were reached. Obviously, there was alcohol involved but the level of intoxication seems to have been high enough that the facts of the evening's events were too blurred. Her life with a mother who lived through her achievements, a father who was a violent, if sensitive at times, drunk and a parade of lovers of different ages and backgrounds was certainly unique. She left several indelible movies behind and a number of less than stellar performances. It is hard to know just how real her storybook romance with Robert Wagner was and how much was fantasy to both of them as well as their audience. What does seem real is their love of and care for their three daughters--Kate,his from another marriage, Natasha, hers from another marriage and Courtney, theirs together. It is truly sad, how it all ended.

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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Very Disappointing Book From James Lee Burke

The Jealous Kind (Holland Family Saga, #2)The Jealous Kind by James Lee Burke
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

There is nothing about this book to which I could relate. The characters were unsympathetic and boring. JLB is one of my favorite authors and his David Robicheaux novels fill my bookshelves. For those reasons I kept pushing on, telling myself the book would get better but finally, after seven chapters and even jumping to the end of the book, I could not go on and just gave up.

I received a copy of this book from Goodreads in exchange for an unbiased review.

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

A Delightful Read:Alexander Hamilton's Guide to Life

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Not an in depth biography of the Father of our Treasury but it was not intended to be. Using the many highly thought of biographies of the man as well as his letters and interviews with descendants and members of various Hamiltonian groups, Jeff Wilser has compiled snippets of Hamilton's life and his attitudes on various subjects. He has also added some asides that are both humorous and timely. Just a most enjoyable little book about a truly amazing man--never a President but one who battled them with his words and bested them every time. As Wilser puts it: " Hamilton 4 Presidents 0 " And in the words of George Will--" Jefferson got a monument--America lives in the world Hamilton created." As a child I remember driving by the monument on the cliffs overlooking the Hudson River and my Dad saying " That is where Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton." I knew both names and a little about them but I always felt so sad because I liked what I knew about Hamilton and really didn't know much about Burr. I learned to dislike him then and nothing I've learned since has redeemed him in my eyes. I wonder if the cliffs in Weehauken are so built up now that it would be difficult to find that little monument, marking a very important spot for both men--early leaders of our Nation. I received this review copy from Blogging for Books.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Poor Jeremy--His Engagement Party is Kind of a Bummer

The Adventuress: A Lady Emily MysteryThe Adventuress: A Lady Emily Mystery by Tasha Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tenth installment of the Lady Emily mystery series. While enjoyable it lacks the sparkle of the earlier stories involving Emily and her dashing husband, Colin. Jeremy, Emily's childhood friend and as close as a brother, who is usually so amusing and charming is sadly subdued and lackluster. He is engaged to an American heiress, Amity Wells, who is insufferable---so pouty, spoiled and immature. It is because of this engagement that Jeremy is so subdued, for, of course, Amity has heard of his broken " engagement" to Emily, prior to her marriage to Colin. Needless to say, Amity is made by the author to feel threatened by any familiarity between Jeremy and Emily. I found this totally hard to swallow considering the obvious deep love and devotion between Emily and Colin.

As a matter of fact, having read all of the previous books, there was much in this one that seemed unrealistic. For example, having known Emily for years, her friends don't have any problem believing that she has made up a story of having been frightfully imprisoned in the cell of the Man with the Iron Mask. They accept the impression of Amity's mother that Emily sought the attention being shown her daughter. What? They also accept that Colin and Emily, as polite and polished as they are would deliberately show up an hour late for a dinner given by Mrs Wells for the betrothed couple.

There were added characters, who I suppose were to mislead the reader. Did Jeremy have a little flirtation with a dancer at the stag party who disappears and is then found dead? What is the problem with the strange Wells son, Augustus? Is he a murderer or just a sadist who likes killing and torturing insects? Oh, and did the sweet but quiet Mr Neville commit suicide or not? All of these mysteries kept me reading but in the end, even their solutions were not very satisfying, nor was the romantic development for Jack. Jack is Jeremy's younger brother and I assume he and is new girl will be at the center of the next book.

There was a bit of history thrown in about the area around Cannes and, as usual, given Emily and Colin's interest in the ancients and history in general, this part of the book was enlightening.

I do look forward to the next story of Lady Emily and Colin. Hopefully, it will return to the fun of the earlier episodes. Especially since Jeremy is once more available to flirt with Emily!

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

From " Abandoned " son to Benedictine monk with a Heady Destiny(Promise of the Black Monks by Robert E, Hirsch

An in-depth look at the turmoil of 11th century Europe and the hold that the Catholic Church had on politics and religion throughout the region. Though the main thread focuses on the tug of war between Pope Gregory in Rome and King Heinrich in Germany, with excommunication and realignment taking place over and over again, there is the subplot of a noblewoman, Asta, used as pawn in France and England following the Norman Conquest at Hastings. It is through the eyes of her sons, " abandoned " by her to the monastery of the Benedictine monks of Cluny that we see the unfolding of Saxon-Norman-Dane relations and the alliances of Italian nobles with Muslims of North Africa and Turkey. We watch Tristan, the elder son, grow to a man of eighteen--a child prodigy who becomes the " Promise " of the title and Guillaume, the younger, less intellectual but fiercer soldier take on the armor of a Christian soldier in the service of Matilda. As they grow up, so too do the mechanizations of the forces both secular and spiritual grow ----rifts are forming in the Church and tension is building between Christian and Muslim worlds. Though much change happens in the world during their childhoods, it is evident that much greater change is in store for the place that is Europe, the Church that rules it and the men and women who are taking their places as leaders now that they are young adults. I received a copy of this book from Book Movement in exchange for an unbiased review.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Dallas, Lieutenant Eve Dissects a Surgical Mystery with Success

Conspiracy in Death (In Death, #8)Conspiracy in Death by J.D. Robb
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story of police detective Eve Dallas continues in the future New York City. Boy, some of the gadgets like the automatic meal preparer would be so great, but not looking forward to all of the droids. In this installment, someone with exceptional surgical skills is killing members of the street people--derelicts, licensed companions--and removing one of their organs. Having pretty much perfected the design of man-made organs it seems mysterious why human organs would be harvested. There appears to be no market for them, especially since each of those taken are old and diseased. In the beginning it seems as though such murders have occurred in New York but upon further investigation similar cases show up in Chicago and Paris.

As Dallas draws closer to a solution, the murderer or murderers manage to get her badge and weapon removed and she is placed on probation pending the investigation of the brutal murder of a fellow police woman, who seemed to have a pathological and mysterious hatred of Eve. To say Dallas is devastated is less than accurate--she is destroyed. Her whole self-identity is defined by her position on the police force but with the prodding and support of Roarke, her Irish billionaire husband and her friends on and off the force, she pulls herself together and gets the job done.

Another satisfying futuristic thriller with Dallas, Roarke and Peabody among others keeping the pages turning!

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Friday, September 9, 2016

Queen Sugar--Read the Book, Skip the Series

Queen SugarQueen Sugar by Natalie Baszile
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Each winter I stop into my favorite Louisiana book shop, Books Along the Teche, in New Iberia and pick up my Robicheaux fix for the year. I always ask " what's new?" in either local authors or in books set in Louisiana. In January 2015, Queen Sugar was pressed into my hands and the owner said if you want to know about the cane business this is the book for you. I had told her how we drove around the back roads looking at the cane fields, this in February and March, and the mills. I'd seen the old Steen works and wondered just how this crop was grown and processed so without further ado, the Queen came home with me to Vermont.
She found herself in a pile of books and became buried until I happened to see the TV promo about a new series on OWN and I said to myself, you've got to read that book before you watch. What story it is!

California born and bred Charley Bordelon's father, Ernest, has just died. He left Louisiana as a teen and made his fortune in California where he chose to be buried Other than sporadic visits to his family and young son from a relationship with his high school girlfriend, Ernest has made his home in California, Once he'd married and they had Charlotte his visits became even more sporadic. After the old girlfriend died he brought his son, Ralph Angel, to live with his new family but Ralph Angel didn't fit in so he was sent back to grow up with his grandmother, Miss Honey in Saint Josephine. At the reading of Ernest's will Charley learns that he has left her 800 acres of cane fields in Louisiana. No money, just land, and the condition that she go and make the crop successful the land
goes to charity. Divorced with an eleven year old daughter Charley decides to give up her life in Los Angeles, leave her affluent mother, Lorna, behind and make a new start in Louisiana, a place she barely remembers from childhood visits.

The book opens with Charley and her daughter, Micah, driving cross country. Charley nervous but excited, too, at the prospect of what lies ahead; Micah furious that she has to leave her grandmother, friends and school behind. Within the first chapter, which takes place in June, Charley arrives at Miss Honey's, encounters the first unruly white boys somehow threatening in a pick up truck and sees her cane fields when meeting the foreman she hired by phone, Frasier, the foreman, informs her he has taken a job elsewhere, the fields are way behind if she wants to get a crop to the mill come Fall and she is no equipment that is in operating condition!

In the second chapter we meet Ralph Angel, who lives in Phoenix Arizona with his own four year old son, Blue. Ralph Angel, a junkie, has lost his job and his home and is driving a Chevy Impala that he rented and has failed to return. Broke, he buys two bottles of water and steals junk food for himself and Blue. He's thinking they will move to Montana because he's seen a picture of a father and son fishing in Montana and he believes that he and Blue will be able to have that sort of life if they go there, too. But after getting caught shoplifting and running away in the car he decides that perhaps, after all , it might be better for them if they headed to St Josephine and Miss Honey, who called and told him of Charley's good fortune. She thinks that he could work the cane business with his sister.

The stage set the story unfolds. There is no doubt that I now know how cane is grown and what natural disasters can befall this agricultural enterprise. As Charley struggles to find the equipment and manpower to bring in a profitable crop her life fills with family members and fellow farmers. In the process she learns of her roots and the reality of the modern South. She encounters sexism and racism, handles them both, but discovers that there are just as many examples of equality and common goals. She grows closer to her daughter who is surrounded by a huge family of loving and caring people.
In Ralph Angel we see a lost soul who despite the love and protection of Miss Honey cannot overcome the rejection of a father who built a life without him or of a mother who was so fragile she took her own life. No matter what he does, it all goes wrong--the man just can't catch a break and it is heart-rending. I agonized for him and Blue throughout the story.

For all the hardships Charley faces, and there are many, somehow you knew that she was strong enough to manage and that she had good people--good in many ways, knowledgeable and supportive as well as big hearted and kind--to support her and that it would be okay whatever the outcome. Even if she had to sell the land and failed to bring in the crop, she would be fine and she would be happy with her new love, a white man named Remy. But with Ralph Angel, somehow that was not going to be the case.

Written month by month, the stories of these two, their children and others in the cast spun out against the backdrop of growing and harvesting sugar cane. I watched the first half hour of the OWN series and quickly moved on to another program--there was too much elaboration that did not exist in the book and was not important to the central story--it was a dilution of the power of the written word. Don't bother!

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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Avenue of Spies--A Tale of Horror and Courage

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This not a long or heavy book, only 228 pages, but the story contained within it is both long and heavy. Five years long or as the author puts it as the Nazis are packing up and leaving Paris, "more than 1500 days,". The heaviness comes from the almost suffocating sorrow while reading of the horrific conditions in a Paris filled with Gestapo, SS and other German troops overwhelming the streets, cafes, historic sites where they are seen and occupying the mansions of Avenue Foch, where much of what they were doing was unseen From the opening map of Wartime Europe 1944-1945, the might of the Third Reich is indelibly imprinted on one's mind. I studied that map for what seemed a half hour, not believing how much of Europe had actually come under the control of Hitler and his commanders. How, I wondered, could he have managed to overwhelm so much of a continent? How had a country so completely defeated in World War ! risen to such strength and power is such a short time? No wonder they considered themselves Supermen, I thought, with a bit of admiration but with sadness, too, that the kind of intelligence and ability this showed should have been channeled into such an undertaking--the extermination of an entire group of fellow human beings and a drive for world domination! The next page offered another picture to examine closely--the map of Nazi Paris, with an inset of the Avenue Foch, from which the author took his title. This, too, I studied with interest. Several years ago I had the pleasure of spending almost two weeks exploring Paris. I tried to remember the places I'd seen and see them again with an eye to their relative locations. Had I walked along the Avenue? I'd been to both the Bois and the Etoile, of course, but had I taken the Metro to them on different days? I could not remember. I wished I could go now after reading this book and try to see the places the book would describe as well as many other places I'd so loved on my first trip. And then I began reading. The opening chapters describe the departure of many Parisians knowing that the Nazis were drawing ever closer to their city. Their trepidation was palpable, especially among the Jewish population and those who sided with de Gaulle rather than the Vichy government that was already in place. There was ambivalence, too. Should one stay and attempt to resist or flee. For Dr Sumner Jackson there was the added sense of responsibility to his patients at the American Hospital. An American, Jackson could leave Europe altogether, taking his Swiss born wife, Toquette, and his son, Philip, their only child to the safety of his home in Maine. Not only did they make the decision to remain but Toquette also agreed to a request of a neighbor on Avenue Foch, Francis de Noyelle, to allow her home to serve as a drop for intelligence gathered by the resistance that could then be forwarded to the Allies. Sumner, whom she called Jack, had already been sneaking Allied servicemen and others out of France, so this was an extension of an already treacherously dangerous undertaking. Though behavior surely to result in torture and death if discovered anywhere in France it was particularly daring considering that the Jackson's resided on Avenue Foch, whose mansions had been completely taken over by the high command of the Nazi occupation! The Nazi occupation--it is described here from the first Panzer tanks to cross into France almost without any resistance. It seemed impossible to believe the march into a country was so easy. How could such a thing happen? But the answer was two-fold---Europe was not prepared for war and, once France realized they would be invaded they set up a line of defense but Hitler did not attack there--rather he marched in through Belgium, which no one saw coming. The take over of Paris was as easy as riding a motorbike into Place Vendome followed by the artillery guns that would be placed in Place d'Etoile and then the taking over of all the historical sites in the heart of the City. The most elegant hotels were taken over as headquarters and living spaces for the high command and as the day came to a close, June 14, the French Tricolor had been replaced by the garish red and black of the Third Reich. By halfway into the book I no longer wanted to return to Paris to see the locations of the horror. Again, I read with disbelief the events taking place behind the doors of the mansions by which the affluent Parisians who chose to collaborate passed as they carried on as though nothing had changed. People wearing Chanel and other designer clothes as their fellow Parisians froze in threadbare clothing during some of the harshest winters Europe had known, many without fuel to even be warm indoors. These same people dining at elegant restaurants or private dinner parties that included fine wine as others starved when food either became scarce or too expensive to buy. I'd just finished reading Les Parisiennes about how the women of Paris survived during the occupation but this book described conditions so much more clearly that even the modicum of understanding I'd had for some of those that collaborated totally fled. Once the Jackson's were arrested and the conditions under which they suffered was further described I had nothing but distain for any who chose to collaborate. By the end of the book, though as relieved and joyous at the liberation of France and its beautiful capital city, I was drained. There was gratitude that the destruction that Hitler ordered to take place did not occur, though the disregard for his orders may have been more motivated by ego than aesthetic appreciation for beauty and history. In the end, there was some injustice as some of the more brutal and sadistic and pathological were allowed to live and even have years of freedom and life once they had served prison time. Even these continued to have friends in high places, sickening as that was. I hated that they had any extension of life and normality after so many had been granted no life at all--children and young adults who hadn't even begun to grow. In addition to those reactions, an abiding admiration and respect for the Jacksons as well as the others who were imprisoned with them, resistance fighters, British intelligence ( Violette Szabo and her bravery are mentioned in both this and Les Parisennes), will remain. I only wish I knew more about Toquette's life in Paris--how did she spend her days? And Phillip--who were his friends? How did this young teenager manage to be a child before his incarceration? A comparatively short book but a strong, thought provoking book. It is highly notated--35 pages!--and has an extensive bibliography. Were others curious to read both Les Parisiennes and Avenue of Spies I suggest they read the later before the former. I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

Monday, September 5, 2016

Ruso and Tilla Look for the TaxCollector and The Tax Money!!

Caveat Emptor: A Novel of the Roman EmpireCaveat Emptor: A Novel of the Roman Empire by Ruth Downie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gaius Petreius Ruso and Tilla, newly married, return to Britannia after a visit to his family in Gaul. They have their wedding gifts all packed but, having left the Roman legions to travel to Gaul, Ruso finds himself in Londinium without a job. His fellow Medicus, Valens, has been unable to find a Medicus position for Ruso but has found him a job as an investigator for the local procurator. Ruso is not terribly happy since he is NOT an investigator and feels wholly inadequate to do the job.

It would seem that a very pregnant lady has appeared at the procurator's office to report her lover, the local tax collector, missing. Ruso is sent to a neighboring town to locate the man who, with his brother, has disappeared while on the way to Londinium with the tax monies collected in Verulamium.
Of course, the chief concern of the politician's is the location of the taxes but when the tax collector's murdered body without any evidence of the the money is found, the plot, as they say, thickens.

Seems that even in ancient times crime and vice in all its forms existed as often as today.: infidelity,illegitimacy, jealousy, thievery, murder, oh, yes, and counterfeiting all existed. And then, as today, corruption at high and low levels was intertwined. All of which, along with various " barbarian" and Roman factions muddying the situation, make Ruso's life miserable. As if those things were not enough, various attempts on the lives of various characters, insolent servants and Tilla's headstrong disobedience of Ruso's instructions in an effort to held, threaten to drive him mad.

But as usual, all of the various dead end threads eventually get woven into a more or less satisfying solution. The plot is well developed and complex enough that the reader is just as confused and frustrated as the hero. The characters are realistically complex and at times, just as Ruso, the reader sometimes trusts and at other times distrusts the same person. All of this makes the puzzle very intriguing and keeps the reader turning the page to see what happens next.

At the end, also, as a result of Tilla's loyalty to her Britannic fellows and Ruso's loyalty to Rome, as her desire to stay in Britain and his growing desire to return to Gaul, as his need to find a position as a Medicus increases with little opportunity in Londinium, the couple finds themselves at a crucial point in their relationship. Tilla wonders if they should part and Ruso find himself another wife. After four adventures with them and having watched their partnership grow and flourish, it is a decision that is as difficult for the reader to ponder as it is for them.

Where will the road lead in the next book? I'm anxious to know.

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Monday, August 29, 2016

Hiro, Father Mateo and the Murder of the Ninja's Daughter

The Ninja's Daughter (Shinobi Mystery, #4)The Ninja's Daughter by Susan Spann
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another murder in Kyoto for Hiro and Father Mateo to solve. A young girl strangled to death on the riverside, a young merchant's apprentice arriving at their door in the early morning hours sure that he has killed her in a drunken stupor and asking their help.

Susan Spann continues to bring medieval Japan to life, populating it with men and women of every rank and profession. Here we are introduced to a company of actors and so we learn of the tradition of noh theatre and those who perform it. Another aspect of Japanese custom and behavior as the setting in which the Jesuit priest and his samurai body guard investigate this complicated murder.

At the same time we learn of the history of Japanese government--for the shogun who has ruled for many years has died and in the vacuum left behind several samurai compete for the role. It would appear war is imminent, indeed, one samurai has seized control of Kyoto in the Spring and now, in the Fall of 1565, it may be that another will march on the city in an attempt to wrest if from him. There is much police activity and control of the movements of the inhabitants and, in time, the danger to Hiro and Father Mateo is so great they and their housekeeper and the Portuguese arms dealer who reside with them must flee the city. But, first, a murder must be solved, in great secrecy since the presiding magistrate has forbidden an investigation.

All of the characters come to life in the story but the most interesting thing, if one has read the first three books, is the development of Hiro, Fr. Mateo as characters and their relationship through time is so real. Initially, the Portuguese priest is so unaware of the formal etiquette of Japanese interaction that he often embarrasses Hiro, his samurai body guard, by bluntly asking questions or opening discussions that are off limits. He does not recognize or chooses to ignore the relative positions of commoners and samurai. But, by this time, in the fourth book, he has learned much more and Hiro and he have developed an uncanny ability to use his position as a foreigner to their advantage while investigating murders. In addition, they have become more relaxed and intimate in what has become a true friendship--to the point where the Jesuit shares a secret he has shared with no one in over 20 years.

As in real life, this familiarity has developed over time and was not immediate. Both have learned more about each other's cultures and religions gradually and the reader is along for the ride. Even Ana, the housekeeper, is more like family rather than a competitor for Mateo's attention or, indeed, for the position of his protector. This is most strongly shown at the end of the book--when they are fleeing Kyoto there was no mention of Gato, the adorable cat. I could not believe Spann forgot to include her in the escape and my heart was broken--but then, Hiro, many miles away, also realizes he's forgotten her. He, too, develops a lump in his throat at the thought. Ah, but Ana, she is wise and caring and oh, well, off they go to Hiro's home of Igo, where, I hope, the story will resume in the next book.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Persona non Grata--Thank Goodness You're Home, Brother!

Persona Non Grata (Gaius Petreius Ruso, #3)Persona Non Grata by Ruth Downie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this third installment, Gaius Petreius Ruso has returned home to the South of France from Britannica having received a short " Come home! " message from his brother. He and Tilla take the long journey only to find that his brother not only did not send the message but also is quite annoyed that Ruso has appeared more or less unannounced.
As usual, Gaius finds himself trying to control Tilla and, in this case, finds himself beset by several other women--his stepmother, who will not accept that the family is debt-ridden and has no spare money for her many home improvements; his two younger sisters, primarily 16 year old, Marcia, who demands her dowry and who is in love with a gladiator!; his ex-wife Claudia, whose present husband visits Gaius in order to work out the debt owed him and who proceeds to drop dead, apparently poisoned, in the study without witnesses. Each of these women are distinctively portrayed both physically and emotionally, with several humorous situations breaking up the really serious mystery of the neighbor's death. Add to this, Cass, his sister-in-law, Galla the nursemaid, Lucius, his brother and five toddling nieces and nephews and one can easily see why Gaius frequently searches out the peace and quiet of an empty bathouse, with the doors securely bolted.

There are various Roman neighbors, workmen, slave, murderers and, oh, yes, the lovely widow next door. Tilla finds herself surrounded by family and acquaintances who aren't quite sure where she fits in the scheme of things and worries about the fetching neighbor and ex-wife. She is also overwhelmed by the treatment of foreigners by the Romans, either as slaves or as players in the deadly games in the local amphitheatre. Add to these oddities she is also taken my the nursemaid to a meeting of the followers of Christos and finds their beliefs and practices quite puzzling.

The family dynamics are amusing as well as realistic--two teenage girls and an unmarried uncle trying to set them up for marriage!! The solving of two murders, the description of the masses cheering the death of gladiators at the attack by wild animals, the birth of a new religion and the telling of the story matter of factly as a Roman and simultaneously through the eyes of the so called barbarian, Tilla, are all threads that keep the reader involved and interested until the very last clasp of Tilla's and Ruso's hands as it appears they are preparing for a lifetime commitment

At the end, Persona non Grata and his barbarian woman have saved the day.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Our Own Ocean GetAway in Winter

Just finished reading A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy and was reminded of all the trips we made to the Maine coast when we were teaching. Every February and April vacation and summer break we would pack our suitcase the night before the last day of school. At the final bell, we'd go down the road to the elementary school, pick up our daughter and head right out for Old Orchard Beach. These were the perfect times to go--no one else or at least very few others were on that long stretch of sand. Our daughter would immediately run into the ocean--it did not matter that it was winter. She would splash around and it would be almost impossible to get her into the room where I'd put her into a warm shower and then cuddle with her under the covers to get her warm. It was hopeless to try to instill in her that fact that at those times of year it was actually dangerous to get so cold. As she got older she stayed in less time and get warm faster on her own but, still, she dashed in upon arrival. We all spent endless hours together or alone walking the beach, collecting sand dollars, primarily, although after a storm at sea and high waves I found a large fresh, though dead scallop, still in its pair of shells. I brought that back to share with my biology students and then cleaned it and kept the shell. As I write this I see it in the pantry window, as beautiful as ever. The best shell I have EVER found on an ocean beach on either coast or north or south. On the window above the kitchen sink is the miniature bell jar salt shaker filled with ocean polished shards of glass--no red, though I've searched forever. An old fashioned sugar shaker has small delicate spiral shells and bivalves bleached white from sandblasting waves and sun. And hanging on the wall is the tide clock with oyster shells that keeps me informed about when the beach is wider than the boardwalks at some tourist meccas or almost too narrow to walk without getting your feet wet. I remember the year in February when it was so cold I was amazed to see the foam at my toes was actually slushy --by the time I got back to tell my family the air had warmed enough that it was gone. They didn't believe me and I've never seen slushy salt water foam again. Usually there was little snow near the beach but one year it was blown up toward the wooden bridge so deeply that I sank to my thighs and had an almost impossible task to get out of it. I remember getting a bit panicky at the thought of not being found until I'd succumbed to hypothermia--lol We had a favorite restaurant--it is still there but has gone through several owners after the originals divorced and went their separate ways. It is not the same and, though probably just fine, in our minds it is not as good. I always had escargot, daughter had Caesar salad, garlic bread and Boston Cream Pie, though she eventually graduated to chicken wings but never outgrew BCP and hubby had broiled haddock. Such creatures of habit! Eventually, we retired and started to travel cross country, daughter grew up and went to college in Montana--which I never understood, since she is part sea mammal--so our annual rhythms changed and our visits to Maine became fewer and far more apart. We all became involved in exploring new places and thought Maine will always be there and we'd get back. We have gone back for long weekends but never the three of us together. She has gone with friends, I've gone with my sister, hubby and I have gone alone. It is just as wonderful just different. There have been no winter visits in a long time--we go to the Southwest now, she flies off to visit friends in various places on school vacation--she's followed in our footsteps and teaches now, too. This fall, though, I've asked to spend a week back at the beach for my 74th birthday. It falls on a Sunday so hubby and I will go up on the Wednesday before, daughter will come for the weekend, and we will return home the following Thursday morning. Not sure where we'll eat, but I think I'll find a place with escargot. The Cheese Iron has become a favorite sandwich place to get stuff to eat on the porch overlooking the ocean. There will be lots of beach walks and maybe I'll find another beautiful specimen to put on the window. For sure, I will come home refreshed and renewed with the rush of the ocean thrumming in these Irish blood vessels once more. I cannot wait

A Week in Winter on the West Coast of Ireland! I'd Like to Go.

A Week in WinterA Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've never read anything by Binchy before though I always meant to do so. This past winter a friend passed this book on to me with the comment that it was just a nice, warm simple story and that is what it is.
Set on the west coast of Ireland it tells of a woman from Stoneybridge who'd grown up there, ran off with a young American, got left behind by him after a short time, made her way in New York City until returning to Stoneybridge in her middle age. Having covered up her life by presenting herself as a widow she purchases and restores a Victorian home perched on cliffs overlooking the Atlantic. With help from various friends and family members she refurbishes the place, retaining its Victorian aura and opens a tourist home.
This is the story of the first batch of guests for her first winter week of rental. Each of the characters is given his or her own chapter and, as we get to know them, we also become acquainted with the village, its inhabitants and the beautiful Irish Atlantic coast. The arrangement allows for easy reading since each chapter is a story in itself and so the book is easily laid down for a time without a need for immediate continuity. Yet, by the same token, the arrangement keeps the reader interested enough to want to know each of the guests who gather round the dining table at night for dinner as a community. Chickie, the owner, oversees the changes that occur in the lives of each guest--everyone of whom needs and greatly benefits from this one week away from the reality of their everyday lives.
At the end, it seems as though they each may have made life changing decisions that may or may not improve reality but at least sends them back renewed, refreshed and more comfortably alive than before their arrival at Stone Cottage in Stoneybridge, Ireland. There is a sense that each has learned a bit more about themselves, about life and what they want from it. The stories might even encourage the reader to find their own Stone Cottage with its walking trails at which to seek a break from lives that may be too hectic to really evaluate or appreciate.
At the very least, a fictional visit to Stoneybridge on a rainy summer day, drives the clouds and damp away until the sun returns.

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Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Last Enchantments Is No Match For Charles Lennox

The Last EnchantmentsThe Last Enchantments by Charles Finch
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Have only gotten as far as Chapter 3 and just cannot continue. Finch is an excellent writer and his way with words in the Lennox series completely drawers me in. In this book, however, his prose, plot and characters leave me totally cold. The protagonist is well into his twenties, has graduated from college and has been working on the Kerry presidential campaign. Having lost, he is at loose ends as to what to do with himself. Through family connections it would seem he has gained a place for grad studies at Oxford. He's been living with Alison, another Kerry worker, and she continues on in the political arena, quite busily as it turns out, while he goes off for a year to England.
Within days, he has managed to get totally blitzed and in on his way to the second infidelity to his supposed designated wife--apparently they have all the required pedigree and training to be a perfect match.
Their stultifying sense of entitlement, lack of direction though pushing thirty and their snobbery is just too much for me. I shall wait for the next Lennox book and move on to other books rather than waste any more time on this one. So disappointing and so disappointed in a sophomoric essay that I sincerely hope is more farce than reality.

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Saffire--The Building of the Panama Canal

SaffireSaffire by Sigmund Brouwer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My father took his first wife on a cruise through the Panama Canal shortly after it opened as his honeymoon gift. She hated it! She also hated their cross country road trip in the '30's. Needless to say the marriage didn't last and he eventually met my Mom who loved trips like these. As a result of both --stories of the honeymoon and the adventuresome spirit of my parents--traveling the Panama Canal has been on my bucket list forever. Still is but this book has given me a bit of a substitute and it may have to suffice.
For you see, though the title of the book refers to a young girl whose mother was accused of stealing jewelry and then running off and disappearing without a trace, the true focus of it is the Panama Canal. We see the extraordinary engineering feat its building was through the James Holt, a cattle rancher from Dakota, around Medora. He is a widower who finds himself in financial straits, so much so that he faces foreclosure on his ranch. His buddy, Theodore Roosevelt, promises him a bank note to pay his outstanding bills if he will just travel to Panama and report there to Col. Goethals, the man in charge of the construction. Holt neither knows why he was chosen nor what is expected of him in Panama, but since he gets the bank note just for hearing Goethals out, he boards a train and heads to New York, leaving his young daughter behind for the duration.
Everything about the trip to Panama from Dakota is described by Holt. His arrival in the Zone and his first encounter with my favorite character, T.B. Miskimon, who is as stiff as the starch in his shirt collar. He is Goethal's right hand man and as such is the perfect foil to the casual humor of the American cowboy, complete with felt hat and boots, that is Holt.
Throughout the story, which takes place over three days, Holt is sort of lost --he hasn't a clue what is going on or what he is supposed to be investigating for Goethals. The reader is lost as well--there are so many characters whose motivations and manipulations and connections are hazy. One thing was clear to me at first meeting Odalis Corillo but since the man's mystery is a plot point and used as a mystery I will not reveal what I knew at first sight.
There are many others to interact with Holt--Saffire, the young girl of the title implores him to help her find out the truth about her mother and Goethals encourages him to investigate that mystery as his cover.
He travels from the American controlled Zone into the heart of Panama City where his new position as a policeman in the Zone has no meaning. His questions get him into a life threatening situation from which he is rescued by Saffire and the lovely Raquel Sandoval, daughter of a prominent Panamanian. He had met her earlier in the company of a young man, her fiancé, Raoul Amador. At the same time, he is introduced to Robert ,a German tourist and Earl Harding, an American journalist. Throughout his investigations his path crosses with them both many times. In addition, there is William Nelson Cromwell, financier involved in the convoluted workings of corporate transfers involving the original Columbian interests prior to the Panamanian Revolution that broke Panama from Columbia. Also, the transfer of French control of the canal construction to the American corporation which was now completing the rail line as well as the locks and dam building taking place to make the connection of Atlantic to Pacific a reality.
Many of the characters in the telling are real historical figures, some of the story is true--the politics and engineering and sabotage --and some of it is not. All of it is fascinating and exciting. The love story is a bit far-fetched and not entirely well developed or necessary, but on the other hand, not terribly distracting or explicit. The first person narration adds an extra touch of immediacy and realism. All in all, a book worth reading, even, perhaps, a second time.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review."

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Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Home By Nightfall--The Charles Fellows Do It Again!

Home by Nightfall (Charles Lenox Mysteries #9)Home by Nightfall by Charles Finch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For those of you who have read the Charles Lennox mysteries from the beginning this entry to the series does not disappoint. Charles sister in law has died and he returns to his childhood home to stay with his brother, Edward, for awhile. Finch, the author, does such a good job of developing his characters that the love between the brothers is realistically portrayed as is the area in which they grew up. The townsfolk that they have known forever and those more recently arrived are distinctive in their descriptions and mannerisms. Since this is a mystery series and since Charles the younger brother has become a detective there is of course a series of crimes that need solving. A man's house has been broken into and all that seems to have been taken is a bottle of sherry, although, too there is a strange chalked image of a young girl on his doorstep. In addition, the mayor of the town, not long afterwards, is found in his office brutally stabbed to death and the same image drawn on his office wall in his blood.
Investigating these crimes serves several purposes for the Lennox men--it keeps Charles from getting bored or anxious to return to London where he was immersed with his partners in the investigation of the disappearance of a famous German classical pianist. In addition, since Charles involves Edward in the local investigation it helps to distract him from the loss of his wife, at least temporarily. It also prevents him from dwelling too much on the fact that his two sons are away from home, one in Africa and one on a Naval ship, who knows where. Not only does he miss them but he also is worried for they do not yet know that their mother has died.
In true, Finch fashion, all is resolved by books end--mysteries solved, with the help of Dr OConnell--Lady Jane, Toto, the children and Hughes all make their appearances, too and the reader of the series is happy to have spent time with them all once more.
Though the book is enjoyable in and of itself, if you have not read any of the prior books, in my opinion the series is much more fun, if the reader starts at the beginning with A Beautiful Blue Death. It should also be said that in addition to being an enjoyable read each book is also lovely to look at since each cover is a delightful series of items of the period strewn across appealing colorful backgrounds.

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Paper Castles--Poor Little Rich Girl :(

Paper CastlesPaper Castles by Terri Lee
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

In trying to cover too many struggles in the life of the " heroine " or anyway , main character, Savannah Palmerton, the author produced a book in which everything is very superficial. The paper castles of the title refers to the homes of the rich ( castles ) which from the outside looking in house happy families, well-adjusted and loving. But, it can be assumed from the travails of this pampered, protected almost 40 year old, they actually are made not of sturdy brick but rather of fragile paper. They hide lies and secrets and scandals and sadness. None of which seemed particularly surprising to me. The fact that all of this is hidden rather than aired in public also is not a surprise but, in this day and age of public self-revelation, may be perceived as unhealthy if not downright shameful in itself.
The time of the story is the 60's, 1963 to be precise. I graduated from college then at 20, so Savannah might have been an older sister or cousin. In my family we would have known she was an alcoholic and pill popper with an adulterous husband. We would not have bandied it about either but someone would have been urging her to pull herself together and get a life. Other than enrolling in a Community College art course she doesn't appear to do anything with herself. She doesn't take care of the house, she has a housekeeper/nanny/surrogate mother for that. She doesn't appear to have too much to do with her kids and she sure doesn't do much about standing up for herself in her marriage. She's kind of a shallow basket case with whom I could not relate.
I did stick with the book, though, hoping that the point was that she would become stronger and say enough is enough and become more than a one dimensional character--but alas, it did not happen. Her husband is gotten rid of fairly easily--as a plot point--and it sets the tenor for the rest of the book. Mental illness seems to run in the family, but does it? And if it exists at all in the family, how was it handled? At the end of the book it seems finding a new man, going to the ocean and dropping alcohol and pills takes care of everything.
While there were several " I didn't see that coming" moments in the story which kept me pushing on, there was just no meat on the bones. Everything, dalliances, mental illness, alienation from family members, alcoholism--all glossed over and superficial. Fortunately, it was a fast read or I would have tossed it aside.
I must admit, the personal thank you note from the author was a first and touched me but though Terri Lee sounds like a nice lady, not sure I'll seek out any other of her books. This was a GoodReads Giveaway in exchange for an unbiased review.

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