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

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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Monday, 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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Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hearts West--Mail Order Brides on the Frontier

Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the FrontierHearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier by Chris Enss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I read this little book the jingle " you don't have to be lonely at Farmers only dot com" began to play in my mind. This led me to think about Christian Mingle and other on-line dating services and also took me back to personals in the classified section of the newspaper. Are they still there, I wondered, so went in search of today's copy of our local paper--nope, no personals ads anymore. Things change so much is such a short time, I thought, and yet, other things do not.
There continues to be that longing for a special someone in our life and the methods of finding the person may change but the human desire for companionship does not. In Hearts West the primary people longing for someone were the many young and not so young men who made their way to the wide open spaces of the American West, some rushing for gold after the 1849 discovery at Sutter's Mill, or in the Pacific Northwest working in lumber or fishing industries, some ranching in Idaho and the Dakotas or even others in the Midwest who farming. These found themselves in an almost all male environment and before too long they found they wanted wives to share the building of their homes and lives.
Some groups in the West gathered money together and sent emissaries back East to advertise for young women to move to the West and marry. Others merely sent advertisements to papers in the East asking for women to correspond with them with the idea of eventual marriage. For their parts, young women who found themselves in the unenviable position of spinster or orphan or widow responded to the call and packing a bag set out alone or in groups to meet men with whom they may have exchanged a few letters and a picture or two. Many arrived and within hours became the wives of these men.
In this little book, we read short entries of the people who organized the search for the women, and others of the couples who met, married and then made it for decades or managed for, in one case, an hour. All of the stories are interesting, some incredibly sad, others remarkably uplifting, all awe-inspiring in the strength and bravery of the women involved There is a section of actual ads submitted by the men seeking wives, but also ads submitted by women seeking a husband. In a short ad the personalities of the seekers come through--some obviously witty, lighthearted and others more serious and dour. Some, as one man, not interested in Irish women, others, as one woman desiring a Catholic gentleman. It is interesting to see with what bravado or modesty they describe themselves--age, height, weight, hair and eye color, financial status, hope for a compatible mate.
It would seem, then as now, the seeking of a partner required taking a risk of failure but hope, then as now, springs eternal and for some, then as now, there is success and happy ever after.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Brownie Wise Was Certainly The Life of All Tupperware Parties!

Life of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party EmpireLife of the Party: The Remarkable Story of How Brownie Wise Built, and Lost, a Tupperware Party Empire by Bob Kealing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Originally written in 2008 with the focus on Tupperware and the company that manufactured it, this new revised edition has as its focus Brownie Wise, Miss Tupperware of the '50's. Those of us of a certain age have attended Tupperware parties, played the games, won little prizes, viewed the demonstration of the products and walked home with our new plastic kitchenware. Some of us even signed up to hostess a party of our own with the promise of hostess gifts and bonuses. Brownie Wise was the brains behind this money making concept--the home demonstration party. Well, the party part anyway. Stanley Home Products for whom she worked first after her divorce had used the concept of door to door selling which included a home demonstration, but Brownie added the idea of the salesperson gathering several customers together in one place and presenting product in a snack filled, game playing setting in a friend's home.
Her sales acumen and drive, headquartered in Florida, where Mr Tupper chose to locate the sales party branch makes for an incredible story. In five short years she and her teams across the country moved the plastic bowl manufactured in Massachusetts into almost every American kitchen and turned the company into a multi-million dollar enterprise. In the process, she also moved herself into the limelight as the first woman ever to grace the cover of Business Week. She rose to greater prominence in American business than any woman before her--vice president in charge of sales of a major corporation--and she took an incredible number of women with her as demonstators, dealers, distributors and money earners allowing them and their families to advance their economic strength.
Unfortunately, Mr Tupper,the brains behind the Tupperware items and President of the company, for reasons that are really unclear, decided that Brownie Wise was getting too much attention and, perhaps, was forgetting her place as his employee. At any rate, in 1959 he fired her and erased all evidence of her existence in the annals of the company. He also divorced his wife of 20+ years, sold the company to Rexall drugs, gave up his US citizenship and moved to an island in the Caribbean--go figure.
An incredible story of a five year flash of success for two very different people which is a fast and interesting read.
I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review

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