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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, 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

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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