I do not think that there can ever be enough books about anything and I say that knowing that some of them are going to be about Pilates.The more knowledge the better seems like a solid rule of thumb, even though I have watched enough science fiction films to accept that humanity’s unchecked pursuit of learning will end with robots taking over the world.-Sarah Vowell

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Star Wars: Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure by Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry


The Rebels have just barely escaped the disaster at Hoth and the fleet is split up in pieces around the galaxy for its protection. Leia is on a ship, whose main objective is to protect her, which she understands, but frustrates her when they come under attack and are forced to flee leaving men behind because of her. Walking on the ship she sees a seriously wounded rebel who struggles to salute her.  She knows that it would be a dishonor to the woman to tell her not to.  She is then told that, thankfully, she is being sent to Zastiga.  Her friend, an old smuggler pilot, Niem, is taking her there along with C-3PO.

When she arrives she meets Luke, who still does not have lightsaber, and seems different somehow.  They are both worried about Han and have been trying to track down where Bobba Fett has him now.  As soon as they find him, they will launch a rescue mission.  Lando is in Hutt's place seeing what he can find out.  Luke is sticking around for now, though he tells her he has "a promise to keep to an old friend".  He is now flying, but has left the red squadron with Wedge in control.

Leia goes into a secret room where the "top brass" are meeting.  Mon Mothma, the leader of the rebellion tells them that they have word that the Empire has already begun construction on a new Death Star, even more deadlier that the last, and it is being built above the moon of Endor. The problem is getting all those ships over there to this secret hyperspace route without the Empire knowing.  Leia has a plan.  She will take a ship to the other side of the galaxy on a 'recruiting mission' and place space buoys in the area to lure ships.  The rebels will use codes they know the Empire has figured out, but don't know they know, so the Empire will be able to listen.  Word about this mission will be leaked to send more Empire troops to the area and divert their attention.  Unfortunately, any ships that show up will probably be destroyed by the Empire, if they show up to the rendezvous location.  The operation is called Yellow Moon.

Mon Monthma, who knew her father, does not want to send Leia on this mission. She tells Leia that it has been in her plans to help with Solo's escape.  Leia explains why she wants to go on this mission.  How impotent she feels.  Others are fighting and dying for the cause, and for her, while she stands by and watches.  She can't do that anymore.  If the Empire gets word that she is out there, they will more readily come and take the bait and the mission will be more of a success.  The plan moves forward.

Niem is the pilot of his ship, the Mellcrawler.  There is also: Kidi, the Cerean communications operator; Antrot, the tinkerer, who was a demolitions expert; and Lokmarcha, the Dressellian commando, who was to protect her.  She tells them they are on a recruitment mission to three planets and then meet up at a star system they are calling yellow moon.  However, it turns out that Leia isn't the only one who knows their true mission.  Lok was part of the briefing, as he was going to be sent to Endor, but was sent to Leia at he last moment. But like Leia, he knows his duty, even if he is a brute.

 With the first stop they quickly discover that the rebels have done their work too well.  A Star Destroyer is after them with a highly dedicated Captain Khione in charge (a rare female officer).  Kidi is upset and believes it is her fault because of the codes and Leia quickly lies to her and tells her she has to use those codes because the planets don't know the new ones yet.  This is when they find out that Kidi has memorized all the rebel codes.  Which means if she is captured and tortured, this would be disastrous for the Alliance.  The same thing pretty much happens at the next planet (with a different story and cool characters) and leaves them feeling guilty (especially Leia) for what they are doing.  Now Leia faces a dilemma.  Does she tell the crew the truth and let them decide what to do, or continue the mission as planned. What she is doing here will ultimately save hundreds of millions of lives.  What is that compared to those few lost here?  And what happens if they, especially Leia, get caught?

They set off on a difficult mission that is even more difficult than most of them know.  Not all of them will make it back alive.  At the beginning of this book it shows General Leia dictating this story to a droid as the beginning of the memoirs she has been putting off writing.  At the end, she hopes to show it to the pilot Poe Dammeron to help him understand what duty really means.  I guess this book is really about doing your duty, no matter what the cost, when all is said and done.  This was a really good read and a neat introduction to how the transition from Empire to Jedi was made behind closed doors. 

Note: There are illustrations in this book and I think it is important to note who did them.  The artist is Paul Noto who got his start at D.C., various independent comics, and Marvel, where he did work such comics as The Uncanny X-Men, The Avengers, and Black Widow.  He also did work for Disney on such epic works as The Lion King, Mulan, Pocahontas, and Lilo and Stitch.   

Quotes:
 

‘Adventures’ is just a different name for ‘terrible ideas’.
--Cecil Castellucci and Jason Fry (Star Wars: Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure)
 Our mission has had difficulties, but suicide seems like an overreaction.

--Cecil Casellucci and Jason Fry (Star Wars: Moving Target: A Princess Leia Adventure)
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Moving-Target-Princess-Adventure-Journey/dp/1484724976/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470405282&sr=1-1&keywords=star+wars+moving+target

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig

Sadly this is the last Pink Carnation book.  Happily it is also the story of the Pink Carnation. This is the twelfth book in the series that has spanned over a decade. We have watched as grad student Eloise has hunted down the story of the Pink Carnation and uncovered many other spies and tales in the process.  Her hunt led her to England where she met Mrs. Arabella Selwick-Alderly, an elderly woman in possession of family letters concerning the Pink Carnation. She introduces her to her nephew, the one third owner of Selwick Hall, and the only one staying there.  The two immediately get off on the wrong foot. But now, all these books later, the two are getting married. It is the day before the ceremony and Eloise is sent the Pink Carnation's chest, filled with important information by Mrs. Selwick-Alderly. As she is looking at he chest, she gets a call telling her to bring the box to Donwell Abbey (a broken down building on the estate) at midnight, or harm will come to Colin's aunt.  Colin and Eloise must put their heads together and come up with a plan to try get his aunt back all before the wedding with no one finding out. (Their wedding, by the way, is one of the funniest I've read in a very long time).

The Pink Carnation story starts off in Portugal. Jane is there to meet the agent Moonflower, Jack Reid.  She has two objectives: To rescue the positively insane Queen Marie and get her on a boat to Brazil with the rest of the monarchs before the French completely take over Portugal, and to try to help reunite Jack with his family.  When they meet Jack does not, for a while, believe that she is the Pink Carnation, which is understandable.  This is 1807 and by now the Carnation's reputation is huge and no one would believe it to be done by a woman.  He's also been around long enough to know not to trust too easily.  Jane, who thinks she knows his life story, does not think too much of Jack.  He is the son of Colonel Reid who was stationed in India. Jack is the product of his second wife, an Indian Princess, which the law, and her family, did not recognize.  She was mentally ill and he ran away to the bottle to deal with it.  Neither did very well by Jack, though they tried. He told him songs and stories of Scotland and she told him tales of his royal heritage.  When he was three she died tragically and they both blamed themselves.  His father saw that he got the best education and Jack dreamed of working in the government.  The Colonel wanted to make that happen, even though Cornwallis made sure that no Indian, or half-caste, would be allowed in the military or to hold a government job. So Jack ran off to work for the French, and various others, including the English where he got some men killed.  He also stole some jewels and sent them to his little sister back in London at her boarding school.  Her roommate was Jane's sister and the two had an adventure over the jewels and were lucky they didn't get hurt, as someone came after them. Jane and Miss Gwen, now Mrs. Reid, were forced to leave Paris to find her sister and were unmasked in England by the French spy, the Gardner, or the Comte de Brilliac.  She could no longer work in France, which crushed her. Of course the Gardiner could no longer work in England which was a sort of victory for their side. So, in a way, she lost everything because of Jack, and he seems to her, to be loyal to no cause but his own.

Used to taking the lead, even though she does not speak the language or know the country like Jack does, which is why she needs him in the first place, she insists on dressing as a French officer with Jack as her servant, and they will travel to Porto and try to intercept whoever has the Queen and take her to a British fort, where she can stay until a ship arrives to take her to Brazil.  She really should have listened to Jack when he told her that traveling with the military would take them forever to get there and that going by themselves would be faster.  Not only that, but if they had gone by themselves, Jane would not have met up again with the Gardner.  Right now they have a truce in place.  In 1805 they worked together, and had an intimate relationship, in Venice, but once Jane saw him for what he was, she quickly left.  He keeps chasing her hoping she'll marry him and go back to Paris to be a prize on his arm.  The Gardiner does not fight for France.  He hopes to regain the titles and lands of his "father" lost during the Revolution.  While many will say the Gardner is a real bastard, the truth is he really is a bastard. His mother cuckolded the Comte, whom she had already given him two sons, and the Gardner was the result.  He left the country when the troubles began and his family is all dead and he feels the whole kit and caboodle should belong to him now.  Of course Jane's not the only one who knows the Gardner.  Jack was ordered to kill his mentor and commander by the Gardener. When he didn't, the Gardner but out a hit on him, though he has no idea what Jack looks like.  The knowledge that she had an affair with him does not inspire trust in Jack.

With the arrival of the Gardner, Jane admits she is wrong and tells Jack that they will try it his way now.  So they sneak out and get a donkey and travel the rough country roads.  Even though her feet are blistered and she can barely walk, Jane says nothing. It isn't her way.  She is stubborn and proud and eventually Jack is forced to toss her on the donkey for worry that her blisters will get infected, which will cause more trouble for them.  As they travel, they get to know one another more and find that they were both rather mistaken about the other.  Of course, Jane does have a habit of changing plans at the last minute without letting him know, which she does at an Abbey they stay at that they believe the Queen may be.  The clothing they are given to wear by the head of the Abbot is rather humiliating and hilarious.  There are two other suspicious men staying there that they talk to at dinner, but dismiss, possibly a bit too carelessly.

Their search for the Queen will lead them back to the Gardner where Jane will have to face him alone and find a way to bring the Queen back to Jack and the Carnation "gang" who have a ship waiting.  As usual, nothing is as it seems, especially where the Gardiner is involved.  This is the absolute perfect book for Jane.  By this point in her life she is weary and lonely.  The joy she took in her work in the early years is lacking, but she knows of no other life she wants to live or one that she is more suitable for. She never expects to fall in love, even though Miss Gwen predicted it two books ago.  She sees it as a weakness in doing spy work.  The Gardner even accuses her of being unable to love someone, and then Jack enters her life. The recurring theme of trying to name the infernal donkey in this book is hilarious.  The names they come up with once Jack stops calling it Donkey and gets into the game, are funny.  At the end of this book there is a section where Willig answers questions about the series.  I won't give away all of them, just one.  There were many stories she wanted to tell, but didn't, and while she has said that she is done with the Carnation series, she does say never say never.  There do seem to be characters she would like to revisit at a later date, maybe.  I hope so, anyway, these tales she describes are quite tantalizing.  Especially the Gardner's tale.  I don't think he's capable of love.  Now, I must go and start all over again from the beginning, since its been so long and I'm having a hard time remembering the first, I don't know, eight or nine books?  This book was well worth the wait.

Note: On the day I finished reading this book it was a Saturday and I was catching up on my Jeopardy.  One of the clues was the monarchy from this country fled in 1807 to Brazil when the French advanced.  Talk about serendipity. I would never had known the answer (or question) if I had not just read this book).  Queen Marie and her family were really quite mad, due, likely to inbreeding.  She married her uncle and her son married his aunt (Marie's sister).  She was known to screech and throw things a lot, but her people loved her all the same.  

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Deadly Web: A Bishop Files Novel by Kay Hooper

This is the second installment in the Bishop Files series.  Brodie and the good guys have decided that when they can, they will help the psychics to establish a very public profile so that it will make it very difficult, if not impossible for Duran to take them.  This is what they did with Sarah from the last book.  She and Tucker married and he wrote a book about her, which put her in the spotlight.  Her powers have grown by leaps and bounds. Another psychic, Murphy, seems to work for Brodie, Bishop, and Duran.  I'm not really sure which side she is on. Brodie now works alone.

Tasha Solomon  is a very gifted psychic. She can read thoughts all around her and has a very strong shield because of this.  Her parents have just died, so she sold the home in Atlanta because she felt like she was in danger.  She moved to a very high security building in Charleston, South Carolina and began a new life, but kept mostly to herself. Instinct seemed to tell her to stay in crowds as much as she could, though she could not say why.  Then she began to notice that someone seemed to be following her. One night she woke abruptly knowing that someone was coming to get her. She quickly made the bed so it would look like she hadn't been home and she grabbed her purse and keys and went and hid on the stairwell.  She saw some men come up the other stairwell and enter her apartment with no problem, look around, then leave.  When she went back to her apartment and looked at the camera feed, she saw nothing.  How were they able to get in?

The next day at her usual breakfast cafĂ© she meets Murphy who introduces her to Brodie.  What they don't know is that Duran and his psychic Astrid are nearby hoping to take advantage. Brodie opens himself up in order to gain Tasha's trust and when she goes inside, she can feel his emotions as well as see his memories and thoughts.  This gives Astrid a chance to hook into the connection and enter Tasha's mind and try to take control.  Tasha finds herself in a maze and knows that she shouldn't go to the center so she goes backwards.  Then the vines of the hedge begin to strangle her arms.  Luckily, Sarah and Brodie are there.  Sarah is able to help her out of the maze and Brodie grabs her arms in the physical world and brings her back.  During the experience, the two have become linked psychly, even though Brodie has no psychic abilities.

Brodie takes her back to her apartment and keeps watch over her. They spend a couple of days there recuperating.  While there, Tasha is visited by Brodie's dead wife, who tells her about her life and why Duran and his superiors want the psychics, because she was at one time, one of the ones they were after.  Tasha keeps quiet about this visit as she feels it is a rather personal matter.  But because of what she tells Tasha, Tasha soon figures out what Duran's superiors want with her and Brodie must not know.

Bishop has introduced himself to Brodie's group and made his extensive resources available to them. Three of the psychics that Bishop was watching have gone missing. And when two of them call out to him mentally, Duran becomes aware of Bishop. He wants to try to save them, but Brodie and Murphy tell him that it is hopeless to try at this point.  Once they are taken, the first thing they do is break down their minds and take their souls. All that is left is an empty husk. 

This book left me feeling wanting.  It felt like it stopped mid-sentence. Technically the story arch was completed, but it left me with lots of questions, like who is Murphy and what is her agenda?  What is Duran's agenda?   What has Tucker found in his research? Who are Tasha's real parents? It was, however, a real delight to see Sarah in action. She has really grown as a character.  She is strong now and out to get the bad guys. She also has a sense of humor and really kicks ass. It will be interesting to see what happens between Tasha and Brodie.  Brodie feels the need to protect her, but since she was little, Tasha has been trained in marshal arts.  Plus she has psychic powers. She can take care of herself to an extent and isn't as helpless as the usual psychics Brodie has had to bring in over the years. How will that psychic bond affect them?  Right now Brodie keeps it blocked by imagining an ocean so their thoughts will be their own. Will Brodie develop any psychic abilities from this link? I need answers!! I need the next book to come out now! I guess you could say I really liked this book.  This series keeps getting better and better.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The First Prophet: A Bishop Files Novel by Kay Hooper

Kay Hooper has so far written sixteen thrillers involving Agent Bishop, the leader of the Special Crimes Unit of the FBI. This book is the first in a series that is an off-shoot of that one, which is called the Bishop Files.  It does not involve any of the SCU agents or anything that they do, but Bishop is involved, albeit, in the background, because what is going on concerns him as both the leader of the SCU and as a psychic who is concerned about other psychics.  The prologue begins with a brief battle between a man named Duran and his men preparing to attack a cabin where Brodie is protecting a psychic, when things go horribly wrong. This cracks the door open to a fight very few know about.

The story begins with Sarah Gallagher, who watches the Victorian house, in Richmond, she had pain-strikingly restored with her own hands, burn to the ground.  The fire marshal says that it is arson.  A man that should be a stranger to her, but is not, Tucker Mackenzie, a successful writer, comes up to her to talk.  She knows what he wants before he opens his mouth.  He wants what they all want.  Ever since her mugging six months ago that left her in a coma and nearly killed her, she awoke with the ability to see the future.  However, no one really wants to hear what she has to say, the truth, or that she cannot turn her ability on or off at will.  In Tucker, however, she sees something different: someone who wants to believe and someone who wants the truth, no matter how painful that truth may be. 

When Sheriff Lewis talks to her she tells him that Tucker is a friend from out of town. Its obvious that Lewis is not likely to discover who did this.  In fact, Duran is responsible, who is in town to capture or kill her, we are not sure.  Brodie is also in town with his partner, Cait, and they seem to be, once again, once step behind. What is it exactly that they want from her too?

Sarah and her business partner, Margo, have an apartment that either can use if need be, over their antiques shop.  Tucker talks his way inside and into staying the night, especially when she tells him that she thinks someone's been watching her over the past few days.  They are greeted by a black cat named Galahad, who comes and goes as he pleases, and is quite more than he seems. Every vision Sarah has had has come true. She recognizes Tucker because she has seen him in her visions.  He is part of her fate, her destiny, her journey toward her death. She sees these shadows that are coming to kill her and a grave that she falls into with  a tombstone with her name and the month of October and that year on it. Its not that long before October now. Tucker tries to convince her that surely it does not work that way, that every decision we make, changes the future, that her fate is not set in stone.  A gravestone does not necessarily mean death.  It could symbolize something else.  It is hard to convince the stubborn Sarah. 

Its hard for Sarah to conceal her worry when her friend and partner, Margo returns home from the business trip early after hearing about the fire.  Sarah has had a vision that Margo will die from a bizarre accident in the shop, which is why she sent her away in the first place.  Now she can't get her to leave.  The next day when the three are in the shop, Margo, who looks similar to Sarah, goes to get something out of a dresser for Sarah that someone called saying they left in there, while Sarah is dealing with another phone call.  Suddenly, the large dresser begins to fall.  Luckily, Tucker is there and tackles Margo and gets them both mostly out of the way and uninjured.  They call Sheriff Lewis, but he is once again, no help.  This time, Margo agrees to leave, and Tucker and Sarah decide to leave too, but they get a look at the men coming to get Sarah first and get a surprise that makes them realize that they can trust no one.

They head to a cabin that a friend of Tucker has out in the middle of nowhere.  It has secure computer access and they can rest for a while and figure out their next move. This is when Tucker begins doing searches and discovers that for the past decade psychics have gone missing or been found dead.  Someone, it seems, is out to get psychics, for some reason, and it seems they are after Sarah now.  The computer, which is not even hooked up to the internet, receives a message to them to leave now.  This alarms them, but they quickly pack up and leave, with both Duran and Brodie on their tail. 

Sarah's powers are quickly changing.  Now she can hear thoughts and project them.  There are two voices in her head, one saying something that she's not sure she should believe and the other, a gentle voice, guiding her north.  She is also able see so much more than the future and has the answer to the questions Tucker has about the woman from his past that he let down. So, following Sarah's directions, while making a few detours, they travel north hoping to meet a psychic who can help Sarah control her powers and figure out what to do.  Then things go horribly wrong.  And Sarah must decide if she will accept that her vision is written in stone or if it can be changed and if she can be the one to change it.   

Bishop became aware of the missing psychics years ago and eventfully came across Duran and Brodie. He has a vested interest in what is going on here, as the members of his unit are psychics, and while they have yet been targeted, that may change.  Also, some of these missing psychics were ones he had approached, but had declined to join, but he had never the less kept an eye on, just in case they needed help, and now they are gone. This book is really good.  The characters are real.  They make mistakes, they are flawed, they are scared (which they should be), frustrated, sad, overconfident,  too trusting, and just plain human, even if some of them do have psychic abilities.  And you really have no idea who to trust and even if you can see into the future, it does not mean that you figure it out right, which could be costly.  I am excited about the future of this sizzling new series.

Monday, November 16, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I eventually do get to books on my list.  This one has been on it for at least thirty years.  Better late than never.  I last saw the movie years ago and remembered virtually nothing of it, so I was reading it with basically no knowledge of what was going to happen, except that there was a trial.  It says a lot that this book still holds up since it was first published in 1960.  Perhaps because things have not changed as much as we would like to think they have.

The book opens up with Scout and her older brother Jem  meeting their neighbor Miss Rachel's nephew, Dill, who has come to spend the summer visiting from Mississippi. Dill is Scout's age and the thee take to each other immediately.  Dill has a habit of exaggerating.  They spend the summer playing out movie roles and such and Dill asks lots of questions about the Radley place.  The Radley place is a mysterious place.  The family has always been odd.  They would spend lots of time indoors and were very religious.  The children ended up getting into trouble and the judge was going to send them to a correctional school, where they would get an education.  The parents let them send all of the kids but Arthur.  The other kids grew up to have successful careers and Arthur was locked up in the house and not seen, until in his thirties he stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors.  His father convinced the sheriff not to put him in the asylum and he was locked up in the basement of the jail. Eventually the sheriff told his parents they had to take him back or put him in the asylum.  So back to the house he went.  When his parents died, his brother Nathan came to take care of him.  Dill became obsessed to try and see what was going on in the house and see if they could get Arthur "Boo" Radley to come out. 

Soon the summer ends and Scout is faced with entering school for the first time.  Her teacher, Miss Caroline is "not from around here".  Scout ends up on the wrong foot with her right off when Miss Caroline learns that she can read and write already when she is not supposed to .  Then when its time to go to lunch one of the kids, a Cunningham, does not have a lunch, so Miss Caroline offers him a quarter and tells him he can give it back to her tomorrow, but he refuses.  The class looks to Scout to explain things to her.  When she does, she rather botches it.  The Cunninghams do not take anything that they cannot pay back.  She learned from her father about entitlements that people pay for services with what they can and she explains to the teacher that the boy can't pay her back and she doesn't need stovewood.  The teacher raps her knuckles with a ruler for that.  Scout and Jem have the boy over for lunch.  When they come back from lunch one of the poor, trashy, evil Ewells is leaving.  They only show up for the first day of school then leave.  When Miss Caroline tries to make him stay he is cruel to her and she puts her head on the desk and cries.  The children come up to her and explain things to her. In this world who you are means something about you. 

Scout and Jem would continue to have an obsession about the Radley house and one day they would notice that things were being left in the tree trunk nearby and since no one was claiming them, they took them, not knowing who put them there.  Then one day, Nathan poured concrete and filled the whole, which broke their hearts, because by then they suspected that Boo was the one leaving the items.  That summer they would become more stupid than brave and go out at night and sneak onto the property and try to peak into the window, but they are heard and when they run back across the backyard a gun goes off near them.  Jem's pants get caught in the fence and he has to leave them, which is hard to explain to his father and the neighbors who have gathered in the street when they heard the gun shot.  Later that night he goes back to get his pants and the rip had been mysteriously sewn up. 

Atticus is assigned a case by Judge Taylor, that he accepts, to defend Tom Robinson who has been accused of raping Mayella Ewell.  Now, no one likes the Ewells. They look down on them as the lowest of the low.  The father Bob Ewell drinks the government money he gets that he is supposed to use to support the many children he has and illegally hunts (which is considered a felony in Maycomb County) but gets away with it because no one wants his kids to go hungry.  No one can seem to make his kids go to school for more than one day a year, the first day.  They eat food out of the dump next door to their shack. But they're still white, so their word is still worth more that a black man who goes to church and is an honest worker and married with children.  A man whose left arm is withered and useless from a farm accident.  Scout and Jem  begin to hear things like that their father is a "nigger lover" and other such horrid things. Scout's first reaction is to fight, but then her father tells her she must not, for his sake.  He also tells her that it is true.  He loves all people, but not to use the word nigger, because it is "common". 

The night before the trial there is a heart-stopping scene when Atticus is at the jail sitting in a chair by himself reading a paper and watching over Tom when a mob shows up.  Jem, Scout, and Dill are hiding in the bushes watching when things start to go ugly and then something totally unexpected happens.

Atticus's sister, the dreaded Alexandra, decends upon them that summer.  She is forever trying to get Scout out of her overalls and into dresses.  She tries to teach her and Jem the importance of being a Finch and the various traits of the other families of Maycomb County.  Of course, the thing about Maycomb County is that it has always been so isolated that for centuries people have intermarried and everyone is related to everyone else in someway.  Atticus reminds Alexandra that the Finch trait until this generation was incest. Soon Alexandra is the Queen bee of society.

Not everyone is cruel or yells horrid things to Atticus and the children.  One of their neighbors, Miss Addie, loves to spend her time outdoors obsessing over her flowers.  She loves having the kids over.  She's fifty, Atticus's age, and bakes cakes for them to eat and talks to them about important things they need to know, like why their father is so important to this town and that he really is good at quite a lot of things they don't know about.  Miss Addie also has a way of putting the women of the Missionary group in their place when they get out of line. She is not afraid of anything. While she is a good Baptist, she is constantly yelled at by the "foot washing" Baptist who come by once a week who tell her she is going to hell for working in her garden and not staying indoors reading the bible.

Tom, of course, has no hope of an acquittal.  Atticus knows this.  He does know that there is a good possibility of having it overturned on appeal.  Its rather sad that in a court of law, where every person is supposed to be equal, you find that they are not.  I wish I could say that has changed, but it hasn't.  We're just as bigoted today as we were in the 1930s when this book took place.  We're doing a bit better with relations with African Americans, but we are having a very hard time with other races, religions, other sexualities, etc.. As humans we will always find something to be prejudiced about.  It is in our nature.  Toni Morrison wrote a book fifteen years ago called Paradise. It was about a city that was founded by former slaves.  Soon a hierarchy was formed and prejudice reared its head, as lighter skinned blacks saw themselves as better than the darker skinned blacks.  It is a sad fact about us and shows how this book is so important and needs to be read, and often, to remind us of the ugliness of our nature. 

***Addendum..First, I forgot to mention something that had nothing to do with the story of the book, but which struck me strongly.  In this book, Tom, if found guilty of rape, will be sentenced to death. Any man at that time in Alabama who raped a woman would receive that sentence.  It is sad that today it is extremely hard to get a rape case to trial, and even if you do, to get a conviction. If you manage to get a conviction, chances are the rapist won't spend much time in jail, much less get a death sentence, which maybe he should. After all, he took a life.  When someone is raped, their old life is gone. It is shattered and in pieces.  If they are lucky, they are able to find a way move forward.  I think John Irving had it right when he wrote in his novel the Hotel New Hampshire that rape is the worst thing you can do to a person because you can't survive murder.

Second, I like to think of myself as a realist, but perhaps I sometimes slide into pessimism.  My friend pointed out to me that a vocal minority was the ones who were promoting the hatred and prejudice in this country and that most people are not  generally like that. Perhaps I was influenced by the incident a few years ago when a mosque opened up close to the Twin Towers and people were up in arms about it.  Also, someone told me that they believed in freedom of religion in schools, but then turned around and said that we needed Christian prayers to said in schools and if they had a problem with it, they could stand in the hall.  It also did not help that the night before I wrote the review I watched an episode of Oprah's series Belief where they talked of two men in Africa: one a militant Christian pastor, the other a Muslim.  When the Muslim's Imam was murdered, he believed that the pastor's group was responsible, even though they were not, and they burned down their church and attacked them. The pastor lost his hand. The two men became very bitter and angry.  A journalist tried to bring the two men together in an attempt to bring peace, but was unsuccessful.  But after a few years, the men came to realize that this is not what their God would want them to do and they forgave each other and joined forces and began traveling into Muslim areas to teach forgiveness and try to heal the land.  The pastor would show that he had been affected by this, as he had lost a hand, but he would always be countered by others who had lost a loved one.  He often met Muslims who had been forced from their homes from the Christians.  Most of the Muslims would turn their backs and walk away from these men.  I paid attention to that and failed to notice those who stayed behind and listened.  So maybe things are not as bad as they seem.  I don't know.  I can only hope that we will continue to march forward and progress toward loving our fellow brothers and sisters no matter what.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Our Man In Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South by Christopher Dickey


I began on my journey of studying the Civil War my junior year in High School.  Mrs. Williams asked us when in U.S. history we wanted to start. We chose to begin in the middle.  We spent a month on the Civil War (To my Yankee friends, historians will tell you that the Civil War was a huge turning point in history.  Besides, all but two of the battles took place in the South, so we have a vested interest.)  Over the years I have read books (both fiction and non-fiction), seen movies, and documentaries.  I thought I had viewed the War from every possible viewpoint.  I was wrong.  Apparently the British had one.  To my knowledge, the only role the British played was that the Southerners were desperate for weapons and money and knew that England and France were dependent on them for cotton.  They believed that they could convince them to help them win the war based on this, but began losing so many battles that the countries decided not to back a losing side.  This was rather far off from the truth.

This book begins in 1853, when a man named Robert Bunch arrived in Charleston, South Carolina to be the British consul position.  The consul is a paid government job that involves doing passports, looking after British citizens and British interests, especially the Negro Seaman Act, which allowed South Carolina to take black British sailors off their ships when they dock and put them in jail as long as the ship is in port.  Now, sometimes these men did not always stay in jail.  Sometimes they ended up being sold into slavery.  The United Kingdom began, for the most part, abolishing slavery in 1833, so they took a very dim view to this practice.  Bunch's main objective, while there was to put teeth into a law stopping this.  He was also sent to spy.

Bunch and his new wife were not too happy to be in the South, but Bunch was ambitious and thought that a job involving anti-slavery acts, which the British government were fiercely against, might grant him a position as a diplomat.  The British had just finished battling Spain to end the African Slave Trade to Brazil in 1850. Morality, however, was not the only reason the British were against the African Slave Trade.  With slave work, the Spanish were able to sell sugar and coffee much cheaper than the British.  Now the British were working to stop the Slave Trade from going to Cuba.  America, who had abolished it in 1807, according to the constitution.  Though Bunch despised slavery and the people who owned them, he was able to fit in immediately, mainly because those from Charleston thought of themselves as being from Britain.  Also, he hid his feelings well.  Too well, as the case will turn out years later. 

Bunch was not the only spy.  The consul in New Orleans and New York were also spies.  The Foreign Minister was Clarendon, a cautious man, but a smart one and a man Bunch had worked with before and trusted.  Palmerston was at that time, the Prime Minister, though he would shuffle around between Home Office, Foreign Office, and Prime Minister during his lifetime.  He was also known as "Lord Cupid" for his many affairs.  He was once even named as the cause in a divorce when he was in his seventies (He was Irish.) It is rather confusing keeping track of who is in what position when what occurred.  There is also Lord Russell who also hopscotched back and forth with Palmerson as Prime Minister. The main difference between the two was that Palmerston was actually interested in the Civil War because he could see how it was going to affect Britain and Russell was busy with all the many other things Britain was involved in around the world and just wanted the whole thing over with, and quite frankly, did not know as much about America or have as much faith in Bunch as the other two. 

Anyhow,  Bunch would find that some people were actually quite nice and good, especially James Petrigru, the one man who be left standing when war began who would still be a "Unionionist".  He was a rather stubborn, well respected man who came from a nice family so no one bothered him about his views.  Bunch also was able to, after three years, get the Negro Seaman Law passed.  Things seemed to be better, but the exact opposite was true.  "Fire-eaters" were beginning to stir things up.  They wanted the South to start importing slaves from Africa again and expand west and farther.  This was something that the British were definitely against.  Soon, rumors of slave ships arriving start circulating and one does indeed get caught by the British and brought to Charleston for trial, but the jury, even though there is an abundance of evidence, refuses to even hear the case, and it is thrown out.  The remaining Africans who haven't died on the way there, or in the Fort while the trial was going on, mostly died on their way back to Africa. The Officer in charge of the Fort who had been in favor of the slave trade said that after what he had saw, changed his mind.  This would not be the last ship.  The problem was that British ships could not board a ship with an American flag. So the slaver ships (which originated from ports north, such as New York where they were financed, with captains from Boston) would fly hoist up an American flag if a British one came near and the American ships who were supposed to be stopping the slave trade ships were doing nothing. 

Soon the fire-eaters were whipping up a fervor in South Carolina, which wasn't all too hard in a state that has been threatening and trying to secede ever since it signed the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.  They are quite a contrary group of people, I have to say.  This time, though, the fire-eaters succeed in convincing even the sensible people after the election that the North is out to get them and will attack them and that they need the African Slave Trade.  In a way the war was not exactly started over slavery precisely, because Lincoln said the South could keep their slaves, but they could not import slaves from Africa and they wanted to do just that.  In their constitution they would have to leave that out in order to try to court Virginia and Maryland who bred slaves to sell and  if a the slave trade was opened back up the prices of slaves would drop like a stone and they would go broke.  Of course, they had no intention of doing this.  The South would send people to Britain and France to gain support.  They readily assumed that they would have it.  They would be in for a rude awakening. As Bunch would tell one of the fire-eaters if you plan on importing slaves from Africa, this would be against British interest.  Bunch, by the way, predicted that the South would be importing slaves from Africa and that they would eventually break away from the North because the price of slaves had leaped up a few years before the War. 

The first minister to the U.S. from the U.K. (today seen as an Ambassador) was much more interested in Washington society than in this job. When he was  replaced by a little known man named Lord Lyon, a man Bunch gets off on the wrong foot with but who becomes fast friends, quickly turns things around.  He supports Bunch and gives him all the help he can.  By this time the mail is compromised, even mail marked with a foreign government seal, so Bunch has to depend on some not quite so upstanding characters to carry the mail north to Lyon.  They also use code when they can.  The funny thing is that eventually Bunch will come under scrutiny by Secretary of State Seward, who really is an idiot, that I am grateful he went on a nine month trip to Europe right before the election, which gave the Presidency to Lincoln.  Lincoln was forced to give Seward his position because of his high appeal in the Republican Party, but the truth he did more harm that good.  Lincoln really should have sent him to China.  All Seward did was to keep threatening to go to war with Britain and France.  He pushed things with Britain so far that we came within a  hairs breath of being at war with both the South and the U.K. at the same time, if it had not been for a sad quirk of fate.  South Carolina, however, firmly believed Bunch to be one of their own, even though he had a Yankee wife and his sister-in-law, though married to a South Carolina plantation owner, was very vocal about her anti-slavery views.  I guess you really can be too good at your job.

This book will tell you things about the War that you never learned in Ken Burns great documentary.  It also gives you a look into England during this time in history.  I have to say, I've always meant to look up the Crimean War and learn more and this book discusses it  and what its resolution has to do with the Civil War.  Britain was in a delicate position.  It did get most of its cotton from the South.  It also abhorred slavery and was looking for other places to get its cotton. When the War began it had a surplus of cotton so they were not concerned with needing the South.  But as the War waged, people began to lose jobs and the government began to question if maybe they should sacrifice their principles.  But people like Bunch and Lyon kept reminding them what was at stake and that eventually good would win out and not give in.  Its something worth remembering. 

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Our-Man-Charleston-Britains-Secret/dp/0307887278/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464358767&sr=1-1&keywords=our+man+in+charleston+britain%27s+secret+agent+in+the+civil+war+south

Friday, October 30, 2015

Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World's Famous and Infamous by Marlene Wagman-Geller

There are many things you can say about these women, some are proud, doormats, crazy, homemakers, helpmeets, rabble rousers, dedicated to a cause, or just plain delusional.  But you can never say that they are not smart or that they did not help historic men get to where they did.  They are history's footnotes and the ones who are overshadowed by the lives of great men, either because at the time, women were viewed as being less, or because the man's personality simply was too powerful.  Some of these women you will want to reach back through the sands of time and shake, give a few slaps to the face and say "Snap out of it! He does not deserve you!".  Others you will applaud their ability to make the difficult decision to walk away.  Either way, these are incredible women you will not soon forget.

The first chapter details the life of Mrs. Karl Marx.  Its rather sad that my response to this was, "Karl Marx was married?"  It never occurred to me that he would ever consider marriage, for some reason.  Johanna Bertha Julie Jenny von Westphalen, the daughter of a Baron in Prussia, fell head over heels in love with the poor Marx and refused to marry anyone else, much to the consternation of her family.  She would wait seven years for him to return from Berlin with a degree.  By this time, her father would be dead and her mother, fearing she would die an old maid, gave in and let her marry him.  Marx would get a job at a newspaper writing leftist articles, but it wasn't his articles that got him fired, but his inability to meet a deadline.  When he began to insult the King of Prussia in print, the two, with children in tow, began to flee through Europe for their lives.  They settle in squalor in London, where they do not speak the language while Marx writes his famous Manifesto.  Jenny, pregnant with their fourth child would go on a speaking tour to promote his views, while Marx stayed at home and got the housekeeper pregnant.  The whole thing was hushed up, but Jenny found out anyway and blew a gasket.  Life would go on a while longer for them, but would end tragically for the whole family.

Mrs.. Wagner, or the delusional one, as I call her (of course you have to be to like his music), Cosima, is the daughter of a liaison between the famous pianist Liszt and his married mistress.  When the affair ended bitterly, he refused to let her see their children and they ended up in the care of a Nurse Ratchet ancestor, whose only good thing she did for the children was to die.  Cosima, adored her absentee father and was obsessed with music and musicians.  She would marry his father's pupil, Hans von Bulow in the hopes that he would become a great musician, but was deeply disappointed.  When she met the racist anti-Semite Wagner, whose music she loved, she declared her undying love. A few days later, he would go out and marry another woman.  This, however, would not keep Cosima from her great love.  Eventually the two would marry and she declared that she wanted to die at the same time he did as she could not live without him. Now, if I had a time machine, I would travel back in time and grant her this wish and take a shotgun and shoot her head off so she would not continue to live for many decades until 1930 when the Nazi would take Wagner's music and turn it into a kind of national anthem for Germany, ensuring that Wagner will never die.  The two insane people were perfect for each other, though Wagner's fidelity was not always as certain.

Mileva Maric, a Slav, had two disabilities during the nineteenth century: a severely displaced hip, leaving one leg three inches shorter than the other, and a genius intellect.  Her wise parents, realizing, perhaps that she would not have a chance a marriage, encouraged her schooling and she became one of the first women to get into Switzerland's Zurich Poultechnic, the MIT of Europe, where she quickly rose to the top of the her class.  It was here that she would have a fateful meeting with Albert Einstein, whom she would become best friends with, as he was already interested in another girl.  The more time they spent together, however, the closer the two became.  Einstein's mother warned him to end the relationship with the shiksa before something happened, but Mileva was the first person he could really talk to about anything with and who really understood him.  He would indeed get her pregnant, but he would not ask her to marry him.  She would have to return home, because she was being kicked out of school.  There is no record of what happened to the baby girl they had.  He would marry her later, partly out of guilt and partly because he still loved her.  They would spend hours in the lab working.  This was 1905, known as Einstein's Annus Mirabilis (Year of Miracles) where many of his incredible ideas would come from.  How much input Mileva had, is unknown to history.  Eventually as they began to have children, her role began to be relegated to motherhood and her role in history erased, as Einstein's eye began to wonder.

Not all of the men are bad.  Julius Rosenberg was a jewel of a man who found himself accused of something he did not do by his brother-in-law who was trying to escape a death sentence.  Ethel would also be named so that her brother's wife could be spared.  The two met when they were young and she was terrified to go on stage to sing and he walked up and told her to pretend she was singing only to him.  They fell immediately in love.  They both believed in workers rights and unions, which meant that they had both belonged to the Communist Party, as had many before World War II.  Ethel could have saved herself at any time and raised her children by denouncing her husband and naming names, but she refused.  She, more than most women, gives the true meaning to standing by your man. Before they died, they shared side by side cells and she sang to him like she had so long ago.

Ian Fleming, sworn bachelor, and author of the James Bond spy series, would be felled by a woman that would be the first Bond girl, Ann Geraldine Mary Charteris, whose shared love of S and M and whose pregnancy, would eventually get him to the alter.  But things would only last so long and soon another woman, the inspiration for Pussy Galore, would turn Fleming's head. This would begin the heartache for poor Ann, without whom, the world would not have 007.

Ruth Bell's father was a Presbyterian doctor in Pearl S. Buck's father's ministry in China and Ruth was looked after by a born again procuress of "little flowers".  Her dream was to be an unmarried missionary.  Before she did this, her father insisted she go to Wheaton College, near Chicago, which is where she met Billy Graham and the two immediately fell in love.  Ruth knew that Billy's Southern Baptist's beliefs would mean that she would be stuck at home raising the children and would have to give up her dream of being a missionary, but she was in love.  What Billy did not know, was that Ruth was always looking for loopholes through the idea of submitting to your husband, which was not a Presbyterian idea.  It was not easy raising a brood of children mostly alone, sharing your husband with the world, but she was the best thing that ever happened to him.  She kept him his ego firmly in check and on the right path.  Her most searing quip was when she was asked if she had ever considered divorce she had said "No. Murder. Yes."

 Rachel Annetta Isum would be the first of her family to go to college, UCLA, where she would meet the famous Jackie Robinson.  He would go to Hawaii to seek a semi-pro career and they would agree to marry, until, two days after he left, Pearl Harbor happened and he joined up, but told her she shouldn't volunteer herself (she had been studying to be a nurse).  After a brief break-up, they got back together and after the war, when the president of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey discovers him, they get married and embark on a difficult life together.  Robinson would have this to say about it: Thinking about Rae always makes me want to remind women how important they are in making the world go around.  It's an old saying--but a true one-that behind every successful man there is usually a woman who deserves much credit for his success.  Rachel and the children would be there for every game, putting up with all the racial abuse over the years and watch him leave their lives much too soon.  Rachel is still alive and kicking doing her part to make the world a better and fairer place for others.

There are so many women to mention.  Like the women who endured much for there freedom fighting husbands, Gandhi, Malcolm X, and Mandela.   The poor woman who would suffer after her husband Oscar Wilde met the wrong man.  The one woman who walked away from Picasso and ended up marrying another famous and influential man.  The fiery woman, his Heart, who helped Larry Flynt begin Hustler magazine and match him cuss word and woman to woman and bring him back from the dead by his cojones.  The wronged Mrs. Stieg Larsson and the amazing relationship with the woman who supposedly broke up the Police and stole Sting away from her best friend.  And the completely bizarre relationship between the very weird Robin Gibbs and his wife, a Celtic Priestess, among other things.  And is anyone capable of loving a monster as Eva Braun did with Hitler? These women are all amazing in their own way.  Some are able to walk away from the disaster of their men, while others went down in a blaze of glory or faded into the night.  They have all mostly been forgotten to all of us, which is why this book is so important.  I salute these women who were brave enough to try.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt

Savannah.  Called "The Hostess City of the South", it is also, perhaps the eccentric aunt once hidden away that no one knew about.  In Berendt's amazing book as a Yankee, the ultimate outsider, he explores a city that prefers not to change; a city that is difficult to reach and while visited, was at the time of his stay, not a tourist mecca like other Southern cities.  Savannah had preserved the old ways of doing things.  They had rescued the old buildings, kept big businesses from coming in, and highways from destroying the town.  It is a peculiar town that will experience change whether it wants to or not.

The narrator of this work of non-fiction is a magazine writer who has discovered that the cost of a meal is the same cost of an airline ticket, so he begins to travel.  On a trip to Charleston, he decides to visit Savannah and sets up a meeting with a Mrs. Hartly who will act as a guide.  He has a romantic and quirky notion of Savannah based on Southern stereotypes and Johnny Mercer music (he grew up there).  Soon, he finds himself spending more and more time there and gets a place to stay.

The first thing you may notice is that the timeline seems a bit off.  It is.   The author played with it for artistic purposes, which  may confuse you a bit, but will come together in the end. 

While most of the book seems to be wrapped around the situation of the antiques dealer Jim Williams, who owns the enviable Mercer House, who is accused of first degree murder of a young man who works for him, Danny, who is a violent drug user, hustler, and his lover.  The D.A., Lawton,  has only tried one case before and lost it, and the man who got him elected Adler, hates Williams, with whom he has had a long feud over the restoration of buildings in Savannah.  Lawton does not seem to have much of a case and everyone wonders what he is thinking as it seems a clear case of self defense or at the worst, second degree murder.  But Williams has two strikes against him: his is gay, which is fine, so long as he keeps quiet about it, and two he did not come up from money, but is a self-made man, who is beholden to no one.  Though, people do seem to like Williams a lot more than they like Adler, whose restoration projects are questionable.  Plus, Williams throws a very swank, exclusive Christmas party every year that everyone wants to go to.

Williams uses not just many lawyers, but a voodoo practionor, because everything helps.  And it seems that her help may eventually win him his freedom, as there will be more than one court case and you may figure out what happened that night, but you may never really know.

Some of the people he meets in Savannah are too incredible to be real, but this is the South, so I know they are.  One of the first characters you meet is Joe, a piano playing lawyer who, well, squats, in various nice houses, charges for tours, steals electricity and water.  The houses are open at all hours for everybody and a party is always going on.  He tries and fails many times at various businesses, mostly clubs and often has the law after him for bouncing checks.  But his personality is such that no one can hate him and everyone forgives him and continues to do business with him even after he has done them wrong.  He keeps promising to marry a singer Mandy, who travels a lot on the road performing and who opens up a club at one point with him.  He also had a bar with the famous Emma Kelly, whom Johnny Mercer dubbed "the woman of six thousand songs", because he guessed that seemed to be the number she knew.  She drove all over the place playing piano and singing, but the two parted ways, when his creditors came after him through the business and he felt that was unfair to her. 

Then there's Luther, the very weird man who once worked for the government and came up with the pest strip and various other inventions, which he got no money off of, because he worked for the government at the time.  He carries around a bottle said to be of poison that he may empty into the city's water supply and kill them all at any time.  He also ties flies and such to strings and attaches them to his shirts, or will clip the wings of flies so the fly around in circles. 

But one of the most wonderful characters of them all is The Lady Chablis.  When the narrator meets her he does not realize that she is a "T".  She receives hormone injections that give her breasts and other female attributes.  She has a boyfriend that satisfies her in every way.  And she is more woman than I will ever be in this lifetime of the next.  She does a drag show, where she shows that she is more than just a stereotype and there is a hilarious scene where she crashes a black debutante ball the narrator is attending (and refused to take her to) and causes quite the scene.  She really does things her way.

Those from the South can tell you that each area, each city, is unique.  They talk differently, eat slightly differently, have a different way of doing things than the other cities.  They even have trouble getting along with each other.  Savannah is no different.  With the creation of this book and the subsequent movie, one can suppose the theory, the observer effect, that once something is observed it is changed by being observed.  Berendt, through no intention of his own, changed Savannah from a secluded city, to a the tourist mecca it is today.  I was there is 1994 for a Psych Conference and sadly did not get much of a chance to look around.  This was right before the book came out.  I fell in love with Savannah then and vowed to see it again, but once I found out what had happened to it, some of the romance left it for me.  It was not the special place I had seen all those years ago, but something now lost to commercialism.  I was too late.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade

Kim van Alkemade has written several articles in magazines that have been described as "creative non-fiction", whatever that may be.  While researching her family genealogy, she came across a reference to a Medical Journal article that shocked her and she felt compelled to tell the story, but in a fictionalized novel.  Some of the people in this book are actually real.  Some are actually her relatives.  While the girl, Rachel Rabinowitz and her brother Sam are works of fiction, what happens to Rachel, is not.  This is an important book that raises questions about science and its practice, and whether you can forsake justified vengeance and forgive the unforgivable.

In 1919 the Jewish family, the Rabinowitzs, which consists of: Harry, the father who works in a shirtwaist factory, who is saving for the chance to have his own contractor business, goes to Society meetings to make contacts, and is hoping to move his family up to the nicer neighborhood of Harlem; Visha, his wife, who wants another child and dreams of moving out of their three room tenement, where she looks after two boarders and the two children, Rachel, four (who is known for her temper tantrums that only her brother can seem to stop) and Sam, six, who just started school.  When Harry forgets his lunch, Visha and Rachel go to the factory, which Harry has forbidden them to do.  When they return home, an angry Italian mother and her eighteen-year-old daughter show up at her house telling her that Harry, who met the girl at work, has been courting her daughter and has gotten her pregnant.  Its hard to tell which ticks her off more: that her daughter is pregnant by a man already married or that he is really Jewish.  Visha realizes that he has lied to her.  There is no money being saved up.  When he returns home, the two get into a fight and Harry accidently cuts Visha's neck, in front of the two children.  While she bleeds to death on the floor, Harry quickly packs up and runs away.

The children end up going to social services, where a nice woman is determined to find a foster home for them.  Unfortunately, the two will have to be split up for now due to their ages, until she can find a home.  Sam goes to the Hebrews Orphanage Home and Rachel goes to the Infant Hebrew Home.  When she gets there, the social worker is told that Rachel will have to spend a month in isolation to make sure she does not have any diseases.  This was 1919.  Many of the diseases that we have vaccines for now, could kill children back then.    A month later when the social worker returns with the news that a nice Jewish couple in Harlem is willing to take them both, she finds that Rachel now has both measles and conjunctivitis and will not be well enough to be taken in by this couple any time soon, so she looks for another placement for the couple.  The Infant Home would be seen as perhaps, hellish, to those of us today, and I have to admit it rather is.  The nurses do not believe in touching the babies.  Dr. Hess (a real person, who was the son-in-law of Strauss, the founder of Macy's, which is where the Home gets its money for fancy equipment) runs experiments on the children.  He sees them as better than lab rats, in that they are actual human subjects whose situations, such as home life, background, diet, etc...are the same and therefore variables can be controlled, which is a rarity in scientific research.  Rachel's life changes when she meets Dr. Mildred Solomon a female doctor, an oddity of the time, who is there to do her residency and wants to run her own experiment, get published, establish herself, and get out of there. 

This book goes back and forth between Rachel's past growing up and her present as a nurse in the Hebrews Home for the elderly.  Rachel has many secrets.  One is that she is a lesbian whose partner is away in Miami, for some unknown reason.  When Dr. Solomon arrives on her floor, the hospice ward, terminally ill with bone cancer, she recognizes her and talks to her and finds out that she was a doctor at the Infant Home when she was there.  She has always wondered what disease she had that necessitated some form of treatment.  When she goes to the Medical Library she uncovers the horror of what happened in the Home and to her.  She was "material # 8".  She also discovers that because of that she is in grave danger of developing a serious disease that could kill her.

After leaving the Infant Home almost two years later, Rachel goes to the Hebrews Orphan Home, where she meets Mrs. Berger at reception, who works there while her son, Vic, is housed there. Vic's best friend just happens to be Rachel's brother Sam.  While finally reunited, Sam has become hardened by his years in the Home where the bells ring constantly for every possible thing and the orphans respond like Pavlov's dogs sensing exactly when the bell is going to ring and making sure they are where they are supposed to be so they don't get slapped by the monitor (an orphan who is in charge of level and is usually two years older) or worse. There are 1000 kids in the home [my alma mater Catawba College, in Salisbury, NC, only had a little over 800 students and much more space],which is a large castle that takes up a whole city block in New York City.  The book has a photograph of it.  It may seem really bad, but actually, a state home is so much worse.  At least here they receive dental care, medical care, three meals a day, and decent clothes and shoes to wear. 

Sam, determined to look after his sister, bribes one of her monitors, Naomi, to look after her.  Naomi gives her an "acceptable" nickname, because its better to pick what others call you then to have them call you something worse.  Naomi is good to her and treats her almost like a friend and its not just because Sam bribes her.  The years pass and more things happen in Rachel's life, some good and some bad.  [Reviewer's Note: a character in this book, Amelia, is given special treatment because she has long, beautiful red hair.  I, too, have always have had long red hair, but I have not received special treatment for it.  From fifth grade to middle school, I was teased for it, until I took a hardback book, corner-side pointed out, punched Scott Baker in the stomach with it.  Guys wanted to date blondes, not red-heads.  In college, I discovered men who felt differently, and I admit, that now, I am a bit vain about my hair.  But I have never forgot the teasing or the seeming obsession by the world for blondes]

This is an incredible book.  Is Dr. Solomon a Dr. Mengele?  She thinks a bit like him, but what she does (and Dr. Hess for that matter), while inexcusable, are nothing compared to what Mengele did.  Rachel wants an apology, but it does not seem that she is going to get it.  She is given an opportunity to work the night shift where its just her and one other nurse and she has already been holding back on the amount of morphine she has been giving Solomon for days.  Now she is in control.  She has the power.  She can cause Solomon to suffer and then kill her for what she has done to her.  But is Rachel capable of such an act?  Can she really do this?  The question you find yourself asking is what would you do.  And the answer is not an easy one.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Shroud For a Nightingale by P.D. James

This is an early CID Adam Dalgliesh of the Scotland Yard mystery that opens with a nurse, Miss Beale, an Inspector of Nurse Training Schools to the General Nursing Council goes to Heatheringfield, England, out in the country where the John Carpenter Hospital has been since 1792.  The nursing school is in the Nightingale House, an old haunted Victorian House that, in many people's opinions, is quite inappropriate for a nursing school in that the windows, while pretty, do not allow enough light in, and it is drafty and the rooms are not the optimal sizes for what is required.  Miss Beale is quite good at her job and at having the ability to size up people rather accurately. 

Now, let me take a moment to explain the medical community in England at that time.  I have no idea how it is now, but if you do, please feel free to comment below.  In nursing, you go from Nurse to Sister, if you head up a ward or become a teacher, and then, if you are lucky and become head of the hospital nursing staff, you are called a Matron.  The highest a non-nurse can achieve is surgeon, which are referred to as Mr. A Dr. is a step below that and is generally a simple general practionor.  Those that are a Mr. look down upon those that are mere Drs.  as being inferior and less knowledgeable. 

Miss Beale is sat with Sister Rolfe, a middle-aged nurse there, Mr. Courtney-Briggs, a surgeon, and Matron Taylor, who has a reputation for excellence to the point that some wonder why she doesn't head up a place in London.  Some people, thinks Miss Beale, may not want to live in London.  The clinical instructor, Sister Gearing,  is filling in as a teacher because a bout of flu has hit the hospital and many nurses are in bed with it, including Nurse Fallon, who was supposed to act as patient for the demonstration of insertion of a gastric tube and pouring what will be milk for their purposes down the throat.  Nurse Pearce is instead acting as the patient and Miss Beale notices that she seems rather scared, but later puts it down to not liking being the patient when others inform her that she is always like that.  The other student nurses present are: Nurse Dakers, a conscientious  girl who knew her facts and was hard working; the Burnt twins, who were performing the procedure and were seen as rather competent; Nurse Goodale, whom Miss Beale sees as quite an excellent student;  Nurse Pardoe, a girl who is too pretty for her own good; Nurse Harper, a sullen girl.

As soon as the milk goes down the tube and hits Nurse Pearce's stomach, she jumps up gagging and Matron Taylor yanks the tube from her throat.  However, it is too late.  Even with all the medical help right there, she dies of poisoning from disinfectant wash that had been put in the milk bottle.  No one knows what to make of this.  Was it a murder attempt, and if so upon whom?  Nurse Fallon was supposed to be the patient, but everyone seems to have known that she was in the hospital with the flu.  Someone did see her that morning running from the school, which is odd, considering she had a temperature of 103 degrees.  What could she possibly have needed so badly that she had to come back?  Nurse Pearce was not very well liked.  She was rather pious, and holy-than-thou. It wasn't that she was religious; you could accept that about a person, but rather that she saw herself as a judge over others. She was known to have blackmailed others and believed in the punishment fitting the crime. 

The police believe it was a complete accident and do nothing.  Nurse Harper leaves.  She is engaged to be married and her father was only indulging her my letting her go to nurse school when she was never going to practice.  Then, on the night that Nurse Fallon returns from the hospital, the twins wake up to go and get a drink of cocoa at around 2am and see Sister Bremfett, the ward nurse who is known to drag patients kicking and screaming from the jaws of death, whether they want it or not, and takes it as a personal affront when a patient dies.  She has just come from the hospital where one of Mr. Courtney-Briggs's patients had a relapse and had to have surgery, so she went to set the patient up for the night.  They also notice the light under Fallon's door and think about asking her for a cup of cocoa, but realize that Fallon, a private person, might not appreciate a disturbance.

The next morning at breakfast, no one has seen Fallon, so Nurse Drakers goes up to check on her and discovers her with her empty whiskey glass in her hand, dead from poison.  Everyone believes it to be a suicide, especially when it is discovered that she is three  months pregnant.  The police call in Scotland Yard anyway, just to cover themselves, as two deaths, so close to each other have occurred at Nightingale House.  Dalgliesh arrives and does not believe this to be the case, but that both girls were murdered.  Some even try to convince him that Fallon was the one to poison Pearce and in a fit of guilt, committed suicide. 

James writes serious mysteries, but this one has a very hilarious scene in it that had me about falling off the couch with laughter.  Matheson, the Sargent who is working with Dalgliesh on this case is sent to interview an older woman who might have information relevant to the case.  She is about to go out to a special ballroom dance hosted by her class. To get the information he has to go as her partner.  It is lucky that he is a rather good ballroom dancer.  As the evening wears on, she refuses to give him information.  Then the spotlight dance comes, and she is the Silver Award winner.  He has had a few to drink and is ticked off at her, so he decides to have fun with the dance and mess around with it.  When he realizes how much this dance means to her, he tells her to start talking or she'll end up on the floor.  The more she talks, the better he dances.  I do not think I've ever seen a cop get information from someone this way before.

The more Dalgliesh investigates this crime, the more secrets he uncovers.  Recent ones, as well as ones from long ago.  Which ones are the important ones?  Was Pearce killed because of her blackmailing schemes and was Fallon killed by the father of her child, who may be the surgeon, a man she had an affair with her first year?  This house was already haunted by one ghost, no it seems two more have joined it.  Is the killer finished and will he join the dead too? 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Star Wars Rebel Force #2: Hostage by Alex Wheeler

Ok, first off you may wonder why I'm reviewing a Juvenile book.  I checked it out and read it to Shelby and became quite obsessed with the story.  Some of you may even wonder why I read a 188 page Juvenile book to my five-year-old daughter.  The reason is simple.  We have read every easy and beginning reader book the library has on Star Wars and she wanted to read more.  It took me six weeks to get through the book and convince her to finish it, but I did because I wanted to know how it ended. 

This book, which I found out after I read it, is the second book in a series called Rebel Force (yes, its part of the "old canon") and takes place sometime after New Hope.  Princess Leia, Luke, Han, and Chewie go to the sister (really more of an ugly step-sister) planet of Alderaan, Delaya.  Delaya is the opposite of the beautiful, glorious Alderaan.  It was where Alderaan kept it's factories and it was not a pretty place, but it was the only place for the refugees from Alderaan to go to once their planet had been blown up by the Empire. 

Leia is given a warm greeting and shown the nice places that the refugees have been set up in.  As they are walking through the city, Luke is kidnapped by an Alderaanian refugee who shows him the truth: they are being put in a warehouse and given little to eat or any kind of real care.  The Delayans have hated them and now they can do to the Alderaans what they want with no interference.  Luke convinces this man that if Leia knew, she would never allow it, and Leia is quite upset to find out this is going on.  However, she is also there recruiting for the Rebel Alliance and this is causing some of the Alderaans to take her hostage and give her to the Empire in exchange for a planet of their own.  They hate Leia for destroying their peaceful planet and bringing them into a war against the Empire. 

One of the most interesting characters in this book is a man who Leia knows as Fess Ilee, a toadie who hung out at his father's palace on Alderaan when she was growing up.  She despises him for being the kind of man who schmoozes and kisses up to power.  She has no idea who he really is.  Everyone knows that Luke had Obi-Wan on Tatoonie to look after him as he grew up and to make sure Vader never found him, but no one ever thinks about whether there was someone looking after Leia.  His name is Ferus Olin and he was once a Jedi Master who left the order at some point.  Obi-Wan and probably Yoda find him and have him watch over Leia.  He finds himself feeling as though she is his own daughter, but must never let her know who he really is, so he endures her hatred of him.  Once she grew up and became a Senator, he pretty much left her alone.  She was rather capable of taking care of herself, until the word comes that her ship was destroyed by the Empire and Bail Organa sends him to find out, so he's away when the planet blows up.

When Fess meets Luke and shakes his hand for the first time, they both are startled by sensing the Force in the other, even if Luke has no idea.  From Luke he finds out what he knew, but did not want to accept: that Obi-Wan is dead.  He realizes that these two offspring of Vader, possibly the last of the Jedi, must be trained in the ways of the Force and begins to wonder if he should say something, when he sees a vision of Obi-Wan telling him that it isn't time for them to know and if they were to begin to learn how to use the Force now, Vader might discover them.  So he keeps quiet.  If you want to read more about Ferus, the book Jedi Quest #1: The Way of the Apprentice by Jude Watson, tells more.  In this book, also a Juvenile book, is about an adventure Anakin as a Padawan to Obi-Wan has with Ferus and other Padawans on a mission.

After reading this book, I now know I need to read the first one to find out what everyone was doing before this book and to perhaps discover more about the elusive character X-7, whom when Ferus shakes his hand, notices that there is something off about him in the Force.  This character seems to be working for the Empire who wants to know who the pilot was that destroyed the Death Star and to kill him. 

This really is an excellent book to read, even if you are an adult, especially if you are a Star Wars fan.  You get a glimpse into Leia's childhood through both her eyes and Ferus's.  Its rather funny that Ferus sees Leia as being stronger in the Force than Luke who knows he is a Jedi and has had a bit of training from Obi-Wan.  She is just naturally a strong person, probably because of how and where she grew up and from being a Senator.  Its also interesting to find out what happened to the lost people of Alderaan and how they feel about their Princess and Senator.  I fully intend to read the rest of the books in this series, with or without, my daughter's ear.   

Monday, September 14, 2015

Act of Mercy by Peter Tremayne

Unfortunately, I missed the book before this one, The Monk Who Vanished, because I have the feeling something happened in it that was important to the Sister Fidelma series. This is the ninth book in the series and we find that Sister Fidelma, sister to the King of Cashel, a religieuse of the Celtic Church, and a dalaigh, or officer of the court (and the second highest degree you can get) is on board the ship, The Barnacle Goose, heading for what is modern-day Spain and the city of Iberia, where the Shrine of St. James is, in order to reflect upon her relationship with the Saxon monk, Eadulf, and the crisis of faith she is experiencing.  Among the group of pilgrims, the leader, Canair, does not show up in the morning when the ship leaves, because, unbeknownst to some of the pilgrims, she has been murdered at the Inn in Ardmore. 

Sister Muirgel takes over, since she sees herself as the next one in line due to her nobility.  When Fidelma comes aboard, the Captain, Murchad, recognizes her name, and therefore her rank and reputation as a dalaigh.  Fidelma wants to just be a Sister on a pilgrimage and asks that he not mention any of this to anyone.  Fidelma is to be bunked with Sister Muirgel, but when she arrives, the Sister is suffering horribly from sea sickness and Fidelma gives in and takes a room all by herself.  After a brutal storm their first night out, Muirgel is missing and a search of the ship fails to discover her, so it is assumed that she went overboard.  Now Cian, a man that Fidelma had an affair with ten years ago when she was a student that ended with him marrying another woman, sees himself as the one to take over.  Cian was a warrior in the High King's Army, until five years ago when an arrow that pierced his right arm, made it useless.  He felt he had no choice in life but to become a religieuse, even though he does not have a religious bone in his body. 

Sister Fidelma begins an investigation, upon the behest of the Captain, to uncover what happened to Sister Muirgel.  Wenbrit, a sailor on the ship, finds Sister Muirgel's robe with a cut in it and blood on it, which makes no sense if she went overboard.  Later, Sister Muirgel shows up in her room, dying from a knife wound, holding Sister Canair's crucifix in her hand, which she gives to Sister Fidelma. Brother Guss claims that the two were in love and that they had been in the room next door to Canair's at the Inn and heard her die.  After this happened, Guss tells Fidelma that Muirgel was terrified for her life, which is why she faked her death.

These are only two of the deaths that occur on this cursed ship that also endures being chased by Saxon pirates, fearful storms, and watching a ship crash on the rocks and only being able to save three of the men on board.  One of the men is Toca Nia who accuses Cian of some horrid war crimes.  After he dies, and Cian disappears, suspicion begins to fall on Cian, who also had love affairs with the two other dead women (but then Cian seems to have slept with most of the Sisters at the Abbey).  Fidelma really wishes that her friend Eadulf were there.  He is a Watson to her Holmes; a Captain Hastings to her Hercule Poirot.  He always notices something she misses or says something that just makes everything click into place.  This ship is not just one of death, but also of lust, as they all seem to have slept with each other.  Fidelma really struggles with this one.  She cannot seem to see the path to the truth and when attempts are made on her life, she realizes that she is dealing with a dangerous and possibly insane killer who has developed a taste for murder and will not stop unless Fidelma can uncover their identity in time. 

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Sold Down the River by Barbara Hambly

This is the fourth Benjamin January novel in the series about the doctor/piano player who lives in New Orleans in the 1830s as a Free Man of Color.  This is perhaps, so far, one of her most serious and dangerous books in the series.  January has just been recently robbed and is in need of money, but that is not what ultimately makes him take on this job for the policeman Shaw.  January's former master, Simon Fourchet is having trouble on his sugar cane plantation, Mon Triomphe.  The slave's food has been poisoned, a butler murdered when he snuck a drink of Fourchet's liquor, and another slave killed in a fire in the mill.  There are voodoo marks everywhere and Fourchet believes there is the possibility of a slave revolt, but he is not entirely convinced and wants to hire January to uncover the truth.

After some convincing by his sister and Rose, he reluctantly agrees, mainly because there is a good chance that if something is not done, the slaves will be punished severely for this.  There had been a revolt in 1798 on Fourchet's family plantation, but most of the slaves were caught and killed.  So January leaves behind his Parisian French for the African patois of a field hand (there are many different dialects of French in the area).  He pretends to be his violin player friend Hannibal's personal slave.  Hannibal, who suffers from consumption, is invited to stay on Fourchet's plantation when his health takes a turn for the worse.  January, who was too young to work in the cane fields before being freed by his mother's lover, still remembers how things work on one, and is placed in the fields since they do not have enough hands.  It is hard work and January's tender, piano playing hands are soon blistered and bleeding and he is aching all over from working from sunup until dark.  It will take a while for him to recover and be able to play again at the winter balls, if he can survive this at all.

He makes friends and begins to find out information about the slaves, such as the relationship between Quashie and Jeanette, who is being forced to have sex with the evil overseer, who has it in for Quashie and blames him for anything that goes wrong on the plantation by having him severely whipped, as when the sugar cane knives go missing and are mostly destroyed.  On the plantation, women are given, in a sort of marriage, to male slaves in order to get more work out of them.  Kikki, for instance, is first given to Reuben, until she lets Madam Marie-Noel Fourchet, a sixteen-year-old cousin of the Doubrey's who own a large piece of land and have a complicated history and are upset at her for marrying Fourchet, who now has a chance of owning her father's plantation, Refuge, lets her marry Gilles, the murdered butler.  She is Fourchet's third wife, the other two having died.  The first gave birth to his eldest son, Robert, who was away in Paris with his annoying wife and children when the trouble first began.  The second son, Esteban, is the only surviving child of his mother. The others were believed to have been killed by the slave nanny.  Robert makes many overtures toward his step-mother and seems to have feelings for her that it appears she does not share.

Mohammad, the old blacksmith, provides January with information, including the whereabouts of the slaves when the various incidents occur.  It is indeed a true puzzle because it appears that a slave or former slave is causing the trouble.  But why?  Or maybe it is one of Fourchet's many enemies, which include Trader Jones who trades illegal items to slaves and others and is hated by everyone up and down the river.

January has Hannibal return to New Orleans and talk to Shaw about looking into Fourchet's will and his son's activities in New Orleans.  He is only supposes to gone a day, but when a couple of days pass, January becomes quite worried.  He has a signal he places on a post visible to the ships passing for Shaw to know that he is ok.  He places a different colored neckerchief for each day of the week.  When two slave cabins catch fire along with some other buildings, Fourchet is affected in a minor way by the smoke and needs to spend some time in bed.  With each day, however, he gets sicker and sicker.  Now January is terrified because the Ney brothers are in league with the Doubreys against Fourchet and the Ney brothers are known for grabbing any slave and selling them upriver and January is in danger of having this happen to him.  His only option is to take down the handkerchief and hope that Shaw gets the message and him and Hannibal return in time to save him. 

This is a dark novel that really explores the life of a slave on a cane plantation, which is the hardest type of plantation to work on.  You can actually get an idea of the complicated relationships between master and slave and that not all masters are good ones, like in Gone With the Wind, or evil, like in Uncle Tom's Cabin.  This, in my opinion is a truer account of a slave's life and how throughout, they manage to find happiness when and where they can, however fleetingly, and endure, no matter what they are put through.  This is also a story of the evil found in the hearts of humans that can lead one to consider and commit murder and other acts of violence.  This book is a true tour de force and a worthy read.   

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

This book is the eleventh in the Pink Carnation Napoleonic Wars spy series.  If you have not read any books in this series, I highly suggest you do.  They are thrilling, suspenseful, and the dialogue is razor sharp.  In this book, we hear about the story of Turnip Fitzhugh's sister, Sally.  Sally is in her second Season after graduating from boarding school and her friends Agnes and Lizzie are having their first.  The only problem is that as excited as Sally was to begin going to what she thought would be exciting parties is actually quite boring and her two closest friends have moved on without her. 

The talk of the Ton is the novel written by Miss Gwen, The Convent of Orsino, and people are seeing vampires, especially after, Lucien, the Duke of Belliston, has returned to the London home of his family.  Lucien has the brooding looks of Lord Byron and the sweetness and mysteriousness of Johnny Depp.  I absolutely adore him.  It is hard not to.  He has been absent for twelve years and everyone suspects that he is a vampire because he never leaves his home and is believed to stay awake at all hours.  Sally, a sensible creature, does not believe this story, as well as the ones that his family is cursed, he sacrifices chickens, and was chained up in an attic because he was mad.

Lucien, it turns out, was the one to discover his parents, his mother, a young woman from Martinique, and his older father, dead in what is called a "folly", which I believe is some sort of type of gazebo.  They had been poisoned by the bark of the Manzilla tree.  Lucien's mother was an avid botanist and his father was highly active in the House of Lords.  Many believed that his mother killed his father, then committed suicide.  After a few years at Eaton, he returns to the family country home, Hullingden, where his Uncle Henry is taking care of it for him until he is of age to do so himself.  His aunt hates him, because she wants to be a Duchess and his cousin, Hal, follows him around like a puppy.  At the age of fifteen, Lucien escapes to the colonies in search of his mother's family and finds her sister and stays on her plantation, plotting his vengeance on his parent's murders.

At a party, Lizzie dares Sally to go over to Lucien's garden and look in one of the windows and see what is going on.  Not one to back down from a challenge, she does, and meets a man who is very much flesh and blood, not a vampire.  The two will meet again at his sister Clarissa's coming out party.  Clarissa hates him for leaving her all those years ago.  While there, Lucien receives a note that promises information he will be interested in.  Sally is there when he gets it and insists on going with him because she believes it is a trap by some girl to get herself compromised and win a Duke.  When the two go out onto the balcony, they instead find a dead woman with a Manzilla blossom in her hands, his father's snuff box at her feet, and two drawn on "bite marks".  Sally convinces Lucien to leave at once before someone suspects him of the murder, and "discovers" the body herself.

Sally decides she must help Lucien, because she sees the way his family walks all over him and he just apologizes for it.  She has heard about his parents and  he agrees to accept her help, however unwillingly.  The flowers, of course, make Sally think of spies, especially after Uncle Henry tells Lucien that his mother was thought to be passing on information to the French.  The young woman turns out to be a stage actress and the director of the play is Lucien's old tutor, who mysteriously disappeared right after his parents' death and was suspected of possibly having an affair with Lucien's mother.  Love notes from an anonymous "protector" are found in her dressing room, but the director, Mr. Quinten, says she told him she was leaving as she had better prospects.  He believed that she had found another "protector". 

Soon the gang are all assembled at Sally's home, headed by Miss Gwen.  The flowers indicate that the person his mother may have been spying for is the infamous French masterspy, the Black Tulip.  Lucien has already gone through his parent's things at the London home, so they decide to fake a betrothal between Lucien and Sally in order to get Miss Gwen access to Hullinden, where she might find more information.  The more time Sally and Lucien spend together, the closer they become and the more they realize that maybe they do not want to end the engagement.  However, they have spies to chase, murderers to catch, and try to keep the police from executing Lucien for a crime he did not commit.

Sally is quick minded and has a sharp, witty tongue that always has to have the last word.  She also insists on helping people whether they want it or not.  Sally is a rare woman of her time in that she can take care of herself and is quite fearless and ready to flaunt, to an extent, the rules of society. Lucian is a sweet, good man who, as Sally points out, has been neglecting his duties for far too long and lets people treat him poorly, because he feels that somehow he deserves it.  It was an absolute delight to read the story of these two characters.  They fit so well together and understand each other in ways that no one else does.  I would say that this is my favorite of the Pink Carnation books, so far, but I tend to say that about all of them after I read them.  This book, though, was an excellent read and worthy of the series way beyond measure.  I am sure I will find myself reading it again, because once was not enough.