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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

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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