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

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers by Barbara Hambly


This is a captivating look at the first "First Four First Ladies", the women behind the men, influencing the way the country is governed and having the perfect seat for the great history that was happening around them.  This novel looks at Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Sally Hemings (no she wasn't technically a first lady, but she was the perhaps the second love of Tomas Jefferson), and Dolley Madison.

Poor Martha suffered the worst.  For the eight years of the Revolution, she wintered with George Washington wherever he was and left her family and homes to be run into the ground and be ungoverned.  She loved George more than words can say and would have followed him anywhere, even to Philadelphia, where the first center of government was, when Madison convinced him to be President because the states were all attacking each other and needed to be unified.  She knew this task would probably kill him, but she went with him and didn't stand in his way.  Later in life George had a change of heart about slavery and decided to free his slaves upon her death.  When he dies a year and a half after his Presidency, she now has to worry about a possible slave revolt.  Slaves had already started disappearing when they lived in Philadelphia a place where things were looser for slaves.  Interestingly, she is not referred to as the First Lady, but as Presidentress, and later, Lady Washington. 

For Abigail Adams, "One answered the call of one's country first. One defended its rights, and all other things came secondarily.  Farm, family, wishes, husbands, wives."  She tried to instill this into all of her children.  The eldest, "Johnny" Quincy Adams, would be an Ambassador to several countries, a President, and a Senator in his lifetime.  The Adams were the first to live in the drafty White House in the middle of Adams' term.  They only had six servants to help out around the house.  Abigail hung laundry in one of the sitting rooms, so no one would see it hanging up outside.  She suffered her entire life from rheumatism and her travels with John as he worked first in London, then in Paris, effected her terribly.  She would also have to suffer with her husband the lies told about him in the press, which would cause him to enact the Sedition Act, which made it illegal to print untruths about the President in the press.  This enraged Jefferson and his supporters (which is funny because, when he becomes President and the tables are turned on him, he decries the press) when reporters became arrested.  But through it all, her and John had a real love for each other, that held, even when they were separated for six years during the war.

Sally Hemings, while a slave, she was the half-sister of Tomas Jefferson's wife Patsy, and the two looked a lot alike.  When Patsy died, she made Jefferson promise not to marry again and to raise their three daughters.  Jefferson was a complex man.  He had the "inability to see any inconsistency in hating slavery and giving his daughter twelve families of living human beings as a wedding-present."  He believed in education and taught all his slaves to read and write.  Sally, a house slave, who worked in the nursery, became close to him through their mutual love of books.  When Jefferson is sent to Paris as Ambassador, he and Sally become lovers.  Patsy, his eldest daughter, and first in his heart, knew about it, and did everything she could to undermine it. 

On the morning of the march on the Bastille, Sally intends to run away from Jefferson, because blacks are free in France, and she is carrying his baby and doesn't want it to grow up in slavery.  But she just can't leave him.  He does  promise to free her child.  Jefferson thinks the Revolution is great and wants to stay, but his daughter Patsy, eager to get him away from Sally, convinces him to go back home to Virginia.  "Much as he strove to transform the world, and alter how men lived their lives, in his own life he feared and hated change." 

When he comes home he runs for President and loses to Adams, and under the rules at that time, it made him Vice President.  By this point, him and Adams hated each other.  Jefferson wanted America to help the French overthrow the monarchy and go to war, while Adams knew we had not the money nor the manpower to do so.  Jefferson spends much of his time as Vice President at Monticello, and has nothing to do with Sally, because she has not responded to the letters he sent to her enclosed in the envelope with his letters to Patsy.  For some reason, he refuses to believe that Patsy does not know.  After four years of listening to Patsy lie about Sally, Jefferson discovers the truth and they reunite and go on to have several more children. 

Dolley Madison grew up in Virginia, but her father moved them to Pennsylvania and freed their slaves, as they were Quakers.  Dolley watched as her father slowly go broke and was kicked out of the Quakers for not being able to make a living.  Dolley's sister marries outside of the faith and is cut off, until her mother has nowhere else to go and goes to stay with her.  Dolley's first marriage is to a Quaker named John.  During the horrible yellow fever epidemic in 1893, in Philadelphia, he and their seven-week-old child die.  She still has two children to raise.  Eventually she meets the older shorter James, "Jemmy", Madison, known as the kingmaker, for he was behind Washington and Jefferson getting elected.  Though they never had children together, Madison raised her children as his own.  Dolley would remain through the day and most of the night in 1814 when the British were once again at war with the Americans and were encroaching on the capital.  She was determined to stay and use one of the antique sabers to fight them off.  She packs up all official documents, the famous Washington painting, and her precious red drapes, but no clothes or silverware.  Only the most important things.  She finally leaves when she receives word from Madison to leave. Shortly thereafter the looting, the British burned it to the ground. 

Dolley was the ultimate hostess and acted as one for Jefferson, who didn't believe he needed one.  She was said to know the blood lines of every horse in Virginia and half the mules.  She knew how to steer conversation back to something less fiery as hot topic political buttons.  Even when after Madison's death, she loses all her money, she is taken in by the many friends she had made over the years in what was for a long time called Federal City, before being named Washington D.C. 

Two things these women had in common were a Torrey sympathizer named Sophie, who grew up with Dolley in Virginia and watched her grandparents home burn to the ground leaving them with nothing and her father and brothers die in battle against the Patriots.  She gets a job after the Revolution as a lady's companion in Paris during the time of their Revolution and meets both Abigail Adams and Sally Hemings.  Being from Virginia she is also invited into Martha Washington's home, as well as, of course, Dolley's.  No one, seems to question how this now seamstress, is able to hobnob with high society even though she is was a Torrey. 

The other thing the women have in common is sadly the wretched lives of their children.  Martha's daughter Patsy dies of epilepsy at age seventeen and her son Jacky dies a drunkard.  Abigail's daughter makes a poor choice of husband and lives in poverty, while her brother Charley drinks himself to death.  Dolley's eldest son, a wastrel, steals money from her to waste on gambling and drink and dies before her.  Sally's children, on the other hand, oddly enough, end up fine upstanding citizens, which some might find surprising because they were born slaves.

I really enjoyed this book for many reasons, but one was that I don't know much about the Founding Mothers.  I barely know anything about the Revolution and the start of this country.  This book is a tale of brave women who fought alongside of their men, if possible, and tried to make a difference to this new country.  You can't help but feel proud to know that they existed and endured such hardship so we can have the freedoms we have today.  This book really is a must read, especially for women, who should know these women who came before them.

Quotes:


They said the Devil called you in the voices of your loved ones.  What he offered you in trade for your soul was whatever you wanted.
-- Barbara Hambly (Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers p 30)


…while one doesn’t always remember, one never forgets.
--   Barbara Hambly (Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers p 263)

 
She understood that even the worst days contained only twenty-four hours.  One did what one had to do to get through them, and afterwards, one slept.
--  Barbara Hambly (Patriot Hearts: A Novel of the Founding Mothers p 259)
 

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Patriot-Hearts-Novel-Founding-Mothers/dp/055338337X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1467206095&sr=1-1&keywords=patriot+hearts

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Poyson Garden by Karen Harper


I love this historical series, however I have not read it in ten years and have forgotten most of it.  This series focuses around Princess Elizabeth as she tries to keep from getting killed by her sister Queen Mary, who is slowly dying on the throne.  Elizabeth has just been released from the Tower of London after a failed rebellion that she had nothing to do with, but caused many of her supporters to die.  She is now living in her home Hatfield House, where she is "watched over" (spied on) by the Pope couple.  She has a trusted horseman, named Jenks and a former nursemaid, Kat, who help her. 

The former Mary Boleyn , sister of Anne, who had an affair with King Henry VIII, and was allowed to marry a man she loved, as long as she faked her death and moved to the country, after all these years Elizabeth thinks her dead.  Mary is dying and her son, Harey Carey, is riding in from exile in Switzerland to be by her side.  He and his man are attacked by a group of people yelling "Death to the Boleyns, even the royal one".  He survives and makes it to his mother's home.  Elizabeth is sent a secret message to come if she can.  With Kat and Jenks help she goes to Windverne to see her long lost aunt.

They find out that Mary was poisoned.  The herbalist Meg Milligrew, who has only been there a year tells a tale of not remembering who she is, just that she knows something about herbs.  Meg looks an awful lot like Elizabeth.  When the poisoner turns out to be someone else, who kills herself before revealing who is ultimately behind the plot, Elizabeth gathers a strange group of people around her that she feels she can trust to help her and find a way to catch the poisoner.  She finds a way for all of them to stay at Hatfield House.  The first to arrive is Meg, then Ned Topside, an actor and performer, who has a quick mind and the ability to become anybody and teach Meg how to pretend to be Elizabeth.  The other two are Jenks and Kat.

This group sets out to find the poisoner and encounters more than they bargained for, nearly getting killed many times.  A lot of people do not like the Boleyn family line, but who would go so far as to try to kill them all?  And for what purpose?  Like the real Elizabeth, the young one in this book is clever and has a mind like a steal trap.  It is hard to trust anyone, because anyone can betray you.  She also has to keep up appearances for the Popes and rely on her "headaches", which she truly suffers from, to help her leave the house in search of a killer, or someone she cares about might die in her stead.

Elizabeth I is one of my favorite historical people (and not just because she has red hair).  At a time when women had no rights and could achieve nothing and hold no power, she grows into one of the most powerful people on the globe at that time.  You see her promise here as a young woman.  She has had to grow up very fast, as things are as dangerous at court as they are at Hatfield House.  Any slip up, anything that might upset Mary, could end her life.  This makes the book highly exciting and a real page turner.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Poyson-Garden-Elizabeth-Mystery/dp/0440225922/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466774951&sr=8-1&keywords=the+poyson+garden

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente


This book, the first in a series, is part Alice in Wonderland, part Wizard of Oz, and some Neil Gaiman magic thrown into the mix. There are weird creatures and characters like in Alice. An adventure with companions like The Wizard of Oz. And an evil Marquess that beats out the Red Queen or the Wicked Witch/Wizard.  According to the book there are only so many ways to get to Fairyland: "There's the changeling road, and there's the Ravishing, and there's those that Stumble through a gap in the hedgerows or a mushroom ring or a tornado or a wardrobe full or winter coats."

The hero of our story is September. She is a twelve-year-old girl from Nebraska whose father is off fighting in World War II and whose mother is working in the factory making airplane engines.  The Green Wind arrives with a Leopard named Little Breezes and offers her a trip to Fairyland. September is tired and bored with her life and a bit heartless, as all children are. "They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror." It is all washing teacups and such and she doesn't see much of her mother, so she hops on the Leopard and goes with them.  The Green Wind tells her the rules of Fairyland: no iron of any kind; the practice of alchemy is forbidden to all except young ladies born on Tuesdays (she was born on a Tuesday); aviary locomotion is allowed only by Leopard or licensed Ragwort Stalk, otherwise walk; all traffic travels widdershins; rubbish takeaway occurs on second Fridays; all changelings are required to wear identifying footwear; you cannot cross the borders of the Worsted Wood or "you will either perish most painfully or be forced to sit through a very tedious tea service with several spinster hamadryads."; and if you eat or drink anything of Fairy foodstuff you will be forced to return every year. And never give anyone your true name. Names have power. 

When they are flying over the Earth, September asks how are they going to get there, as if they keep going they will be right back where they were. The Green Wind replies: "You're going to have to stop that sort of backward, old-fashioned thinking, you know. Conservatism is not an attractive trait. Fairyland is a very Scientifck place. We subscribe to all the best journals...The earth, my dear, is roughly trapezoidal, vaguely rhomboid, a bit of a tesseract, and altogether grumpy when its fur is stroked the wrong way! In short, it is a puzzle, my autumnal acquisition, like the interlocking silver rings your aunt Margaret bought back from Turkey when you were nine...The puzzle is not unlike those rings. We are going to unlock the earth and lock it up again, and when we have done it, we shall be in another ring, which is to say, Fairyland."

They arrive in Westerly, the Green Wind's home and the gateway into the rest of Fairyland when Betsy the grumpy gnome at customs won't let the Green Wind or the Leopard pass due to an edict of the Marquess who has forbidden them to enter. So, September must go on alone.  The Green Wind gives her his smoking jacket to wear, as she is missing a shoe (it is important to have both shoes).  They say goodbye and Betsy sends her through and she lands in an ocean of weird water that she swims to the shore of an odd land. She picks up a jeweled sceptre that she figures might come in handy "to ransom things, or bribe folk, or even buy something."

She first comes a sign post. "The wooden woman had four arms, each outstretched in a different direction, pointing with authority. On the inside of her easterly arm, pointing backward in the direction September had come, someone had carved in deep elegant letters: TO LOSE YOUR WAY. On the northerly arm, pointing up to the tops of the cliffs, it said: TO LOSE YOUR LIFE. On the southerly arm, pointing out to sea, it said: TO LOSE YOUR MIND. And on the westerly arm, pointing up to a little headland and a dwindling of the golden beach, it said: TO LOSE YOUR HEART."  As she looks at the signs, September decides that she does not want to go the way of losing her life, as she wouldn't be able to climb the cliffs. She doesn't want to go the way of losing her mind because she has no raft. She has already gotten lost once and had no desire to do it again, so that's out. So she chooses to lose her heart.  As the narrator point out: "You and I, being grown-up and having lost our hearts at least twice or thrice along the way, might shut out eyes and cry out, Not that way, child! But as we have said, September was Somewhat Heartless and felt herself reasonably safe on that road. Children always do."

The first people she comes across are some witches: sisters Hello and Goodbye and their husband the wairwulf (he is a wolf most of the month, but turns into a human during the full moon), Manythanks. One of them prefers the wolf; the other the human. They have a cauldron that they are stirring.  There's a bit of confusion on September's part on what exactly a witch IS. She asks if they are making a spell, but that is the work of sorceresses. Magic is for wizards. Changing people into things is for thaumaturgists. Making people do things is for enchantresses. Curses and hexes is the work of stregas. Changing into owls and cats is brujas. It turns out witches look into the future, and when they do it they dress up in their best finery or the future will not take them seriously.  The Marquess killed their brothers Farewell and Wellmet and stole Goodbye's Spoon. September decides that this will be her quest and adventure in Fairyland: to get Goodbye's Spoon back from the evil Marquess. Before she leaves, they offer her some food, which she takes, as it is witch's food, not fairy food.

Next, September meets her first companion of her adventure: A-Through-L, the wyverary, a sort of cousin to the dragon.  A-Through-L's father was a Library and his mother was a wyverary.  She decides to call him Ell for short. His mighty wings were chained up, as all winged things are, when he was a young wyverary by decree of the Marquess.  Ell tells September of the days of Good Queen Mallow and how no one knows what has become of her, or if she is even alive.  Ell is going to Pandemonium, the big city where the Marquess lives, because the Municipal Library of Fairyland, his grandfather, is there, His siblings have gone their own ways: M-Through-S is a governess and T-Through-Z is a soldier.  The wyverary gives her some of his food and she accepts it as it is wyverary food.  

After a frightful ferry ride, where September gives up her shadow, they arrive in Pandemonium, where the streets are woven as you walk them.  Queen Mallow wielded a needle like a sword and the city still bears her mark, because there are some things that even the Marquess is not powerful enough to erase.  Since Ell is not ready to go see his grandfather and sneaking into places and stealing things back is best done at night, the two of them go see a movie at a theater run by a dryad, who replies to Septembers worries about her not living in a tree that the film is made of camphor, which is a tree, and she gets to touch it all day long. They are watching a newsreel before the movie that has the Marquess in it, when suddenly, the movie Marquess tells her she needs to go to the Briary right now, that she wants to see her.

September sees a portrait of Good Queen Mallow and her Leopard, Little Breezes, on the wall of the Briary when she arrives. The Marquess cannot destroy that painting either. She arrives with her panther Iago, Panther of the Storms, who stayed with her.  The Marquess knew all along about September and the Spoon and has a counteroffer. She will give her the Spoon and help her and "her pet" and give them presents too, but as September says, "Never for nothing." The Marquess wants her to go to a place in the Worsted Wood where it is always Autumn and after spending some time eating and drinking and jumping in piles of leaves and dancing to her heart's content, to go to the heart of the Worsted Woods and find a glass casket and get whatever is inside of it.  But September is not entirely stupid. She won't go until she knows what is in the casket and she gets the Spoon first.  The Marquess tells her it contains a magical sword so powerful it has no name.  And she promises September that she will not use the sword to harm another soul.  She has something far grander in mind for it, she assures her.  Then, September tells her she will not go. That she will "do nothing in your name." So the Marquess threatens to turn Ell into glue, so September gives in in a second at the threat to her friend. She takes the Spoon and the fancy shoes the Marquess has insisted she take, as she no longer has any of her own. 

Iago leads her out to collect Ell who is being held in a very large lobster trap next to a marid.  A marid, as Iago explains to her are like djinn, which are air genies. Marids are water genies. In order to get a wish from them, however, you must defeat them in battle first, as you would the sea, their grandmother.  This Marid boy's name is Saturday and he is blue and covered in tattoos.  He can eat most things, but if he's been starved, as he has been now, he needs salt to replenish him.  September breaks them both out of the cages with her Spoon, even though Saturday belongs to the Marquess, as Iago points out to her and this will just get her into further trouble with her. But now September has her traveling companions.

This adventure will come at some cost, but it will have its fun and informative moments too. In order to make the one week deadline they will have to try to catch a ride with wild velocipedes. They will meet fairies, changelings, and alchemist spriggans along the way as well as some odder and some darker characters.  September will have to find her strength and fortitude and use her wits to see through the lies of the Marquess and make it to the end of her adventure with, hopefully, everyone intact.  But don't forget, that she chose the path that leads to losing one's heart, whatever that may mean.

I love the way the narrator of this book takes you aside every so often for a few sentences or maybe a paragraph to talk to you personally outside of the story about the story. It's such a quirky, fun thing of the author to do.  The narrator also insults writers at one point. This is a really wonderful book that should take it's place next to the greats like it: Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and The Wizard of Oz book series. September is such a plucky girl who, even in the moments when she wants to throw the towel in and give up, finds the inner strength to pick herself little bit by bit and go on. That's what makes her such a great little girl. She makes mistakes, she's a bit heartless, she's loyal, and she wishes she could be just a bit more irascible, because an irascible girl would never have given in to the Marquess so easily. But a girl loving and loyal to her friends would.  It is these qualities that make her the shining knight that she is and that will determine if her quest will be completely successful. I believe this book will stand the test of time and be read by generations to come.

Quotes:
  One ought not judge her: All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weight quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one. But, as in their arithmetic and drawing, different children proceed at different speeds. (It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.)

-Catherynne M. Valente (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making p 4)
 The trouble was, September didn’t know what sort of story she was in. Was it a merry one or a serious one? How ought she to act? If it were merry, she might dash after a Spoon, and it would all be a marvelous adventure, with funny rhymes and somersaults and a grand party with red lanterns at the end.  But if it were a serious tale, she might have to do something important, something involving, with snow and arrows and enemies. Of course, we would like to tell her which. But no one may know the shape of the tale in which they move. And, perhaps, we do not truly know what sort of beast it is, either. Stories have a way of changing faces. They are unruly things, undisciplined, given to delinquency and the throwing of erasers. This is why we must close them into thick, solid books, so they cannot get out and cause trouble.

-Catherynne M. Valente ( p 35-6)


“This is the tub for washing your courage,” Lye said…”I didn’t know one’s courage needed washing!” gasped September… “When you are born your courage is new and clean. You are brave enough for anything: crawling off of staircases, saying your first words without fearing that someone will think you are foolish, putting strange things in your mouth. But as you get older, your courage attracts gunk and crusty things and dirt and fear and knowing how bad things can get and what pain feels like.  By the time you’re half-grown, your courage barely moves at all, it’s so grunged up with living. So every once in a while, you have to scrub it up and get the works going or else you’ll never be brave again.  Unfortunately, there are not so many facilities in your world that provide the kind of services we do. So most people go around with grimy machinery, when all it would take is a bit of spit and polish to make them paladins once more, bold knights and true.”
-Catherynne M. Valente ( p60)
 “It’s…turning lead to gold, right?” said September. All three spriggans laughed uproariously…. “Oh, we solved that long ago!” Rubedo chuckled. “I believe that was Greengallows, Henrik Greengallows? Is that right, my love? Ancient history has never been my subject. A famous case study even reported a method for turning straw into gold! The young lady who discovered it wrote a really rather thin paper—but she toured the lecture circuit for years! Her firstborn refined it, so that she could make straw from gold and solve the terrible problem of housing for destitute brownies.” “Hedwig Greengallows, my dear,” mused Citrinitas. “Henrik was just her mercurer. Men are so awfully fond of attributing women’s work to their brothers! But, September, you have no idea how freed we all felt by Hedwig’s breakthrough. It is tedious to spend centuries on one problem. Now, we have several departments.

-Catherynne M. Valente ( p 140-1)
 She did not want to sniffle—what was a little hair? She had already lost it once after all. But that was magic, which could be undone, and this was scissors, which could not.  And so, as the scissors sliced smoothly through her hair, she cried a little. Just a tear or two, rolling slowly down her cheek.  Somehow, she had thought it would hurt, even though that was silly.
-Catherynne M. Valente ( p 173)
 “How old are you?” snorted Hannibal, the pair of straw sandals. “I’m twelve, Sir.” “Well, that’s no good at all!” Hannibal yelled. “Never trust anyone under one hundred!”

-Catherynne M. Valente ( p 198)

Link to Amazon:  https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51TrpzPLP5L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Friday, June 17, 2016

Divided In Death by J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts)


In this seventeenth book in the Lieutenant Eve Dallas futuristic series set in 2059 (the first is Naked in Death and they're all worth reading) where everything bad for you is outlawed, including real coffee, cigs, and meat (soy dogs and veggie chips and Pepsi that comes in a tube--no I have no idea what happened to Coke) and stay at home mothers are paid, the president is a woman, people get enhancements, prostitution is licensed, begging is licensed, there are holodecks, and the police use tasers and blasters to electrify the bad guys, Eve and her husband Roarke (think of a young Pierce Brosnen), who owns at least a part of everything legal (for her sake) on and off planet, find themselves in up to their ears in a complex plot to frame one of Roarke's employees.

When Reva finds out her husband, Blair, is sleeping with her best friend, she runs over to the woman's house with her street legal blaster from her Secret Service days, and plans on confronting them and giving him a good shock in the balls.  What she finds is both of them in bed, stabbed multiple times to death, and then she is knocked out with a cloth to her mouth.  Roarke's administrative assistant, who is Reva's mother, calls Roarke when her daughter calls her from the crime scene.  Dallas goes over and sees that the scene is too neat and there are too many inconsistencies.  She has to arrest Reva anyway, but doesn't believe she did it. 

Reva, an electronics expert, is working on a top secret government project to protect computers from a super virus being created by a terrorist hacking group.  She soon discovers that her husband was working for Homeland Security as well as her best friend and Homeland have bugged her house on his metal artwork and have placed a bug in the back of her neck to monitor what she does at Roarke Industries, especially the Code Red project against the virus. 

When Roarke hacks into Homeland Security with his illegal computer, he also discovers that Homeland knew about Eve's situation in Dallas when she was a child and being raped and physically abused by her father--a father she killed when she was seven--and that they did nothing to intervene (Eve kills him when she is seven and is found in an alley by cops and given the name Eve Dallas), he wants to make it his personal mission to find those responsible and kill them, even though it goes against everything Eve stands for and is something she doesn't want.  This causes such a major riff between the really close couple that they barely speak to each other and avoid one another. 

Just how involved is Homeland Security and why would they set up Reva?  Where is Blair's brother who lives in Jamaica?  These and many other tantalizing questions I can not reveal without giving too much away to the reader, will be answered.  This is an exciting series and I especially enjoyed this book because it was a challenge for Dallas to battle a dangerous government agency as well as her husband.  This is one of the best of the series and I highly recommend it.

Quotes: Nothing, no monster was ever as terrifying if you could name him. (p 321)

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Divided-Death-J-D-Robb/dp/0425197956/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1466427564&sr=1-1&keywords=divided+by+death

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Morrigan's Cross: Book One of the Circle Trilogy by Nora Roberts


At first I thought this book, written almost ten years before the Dark Witch trilogy, was too familiar for words.  Six people in Ireland fighting in this, case the head of the vampyres, Lilith, and in the Dark Witch, a Sorcerer.  But soon I began to see the differences.  For one thing, not all of them make it out of the first book (you only need three to form a circle of power and protection).  For another, they don't continually go after Lilith, as the witches in Dark Witch do.

This book opens with the sorcerer Hoyt, trying to save his vampire brother's soul, by killing him and Lilith, who had made him one.  Unfortunately, he fails.  However, he gets a vision from the Warrior Goddess Morrigan that there will be six of them to fight against the powers of Lilith on Samhain, the last day of summer.  There would be him, the sorcerer, the lost one, his brother, a witch, a warrior, a scholar, and a shape-shifter.  Morrigan sends him forward in time from the twelfth century to modern times America, where the witch and Hoyt's brother live.  His brother's human friend, is the strong warrior.  The four set off for Hoyt and his brother Cian's old family home, that Cian has managed to keep up and modernize over the centuries.  Soon two people from the land of Gaell have arrived and they save the scholar, Moira, and the shape-shifter, Larkin from a horde of vampires. 

Soon, Glenna, the witch, and Hoyt fall in love, of course, but that isn't the main story, which is refreshing.  The only fight they have is not whether to admit they love each other, or some such nonsense, but whether Hoyt will realize that Glenna can and will fight, not just with magic, but with a broad axe or sword, just like the others and doesn't need him to protect her.

As they train under King's, the Warrior,  tutelage by day, and Cian's by night they are forced to realize that they aren't ready for a battle against Lilith and must work even harder than they at first thought, even thinking outside the box for ways to fight. 

I really enjoyed reading this book, and thankfully, I won't have to wait to read the next one in the trilogy.  Its a refreshing look at vampires, who can go out during cloudy days and are lead by a ruthless woman.  This book ends with a mighty bang and then a funny moment, leaving you wanting more.

Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Morrigans-Cross-Circle-Trilogy-Roberts/dp/0425280209/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1466001609&sr=1-1&keywords=morgan%27s+cross

Monday, June 13, 2016

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris


Sedaris, born in the state of New York, moved down to Raleigh, North Carolina when he was seven, with his three sisters, because his father worked with computers for IBM and they transferred him there.  They were taught to never say ma'am or sir to teachers or other elders.  Saying ya'll would get you ridiculed in his family.  The only child to be born in North Carolina is his only brother, who would grow up with the worst Southern accent and the foulest mouth.  What his father would never put up with in them, he let it go with this child, probably because when it boiled down to it, they were personality wise, the same.  Over the years, their father would get ideas about his children and try to make them  conform to his ideas.  Once he decided to have them become a band.  When David unconsciously made his gayness apparent to his guitar teacher, he fired him as a student.  Soon, his sisters got the same idea and found ways out of their lessons.  None of his children would be as smart as he was (some were barely able to escape high school) or embrace his secret dream of being a musician.

While in the fourth grade, David is called out of class.  Trying to quickly think of what wrong thing he did that he could be in trouble for, he was surprised to find out that he would be seeing a speech therapist to help cure his lisp on the s.  He was not the only one.  There were other boys just like him with the same problem.  Boys who loved making potpourri, creating movie albums, and other such things.  He made it through the teacher's attempts to change him by using a thesaurus to substitute s words for other words without them.  But in the end, she gets him.

After high school, he goes to art school, because he believes he has artistic talent.  He cannot sculpt, paint, or do any of the other traditional arts and instead headed toward conceptual art and crystal meth.  He hung out with other like minded people who would get high and create truly bizarre things.  He put vegetable crates on top of each other and added a few things and it got accepted into an exhibition.  This put him on the outs with his peers for a while because they thought he had gone too main stream.

Once he left all that behind him and moved to New York, he met Hugh, the son of a State Department employee who had grown up all over Africa.  He owned a broken down house in Normandy, France and every year they would spend a month there fixing it up.  David's sister, Amy, a famous comedian/actress who is a real oddball, sends him grits, books on tape, and a French dictionary for doctors and nurses. Soon David realizes that learning French would be an asset.  So he takes classes from different teachers over the years, including one who made the others cry she is so mean.

It was during these classes that he learned of the Chocolate Bell that comes from Rome at Easter to give the children of France candy.  This he finds completely ridiculous because there are thousands of bells in France, which the French would surely think to be a higher class of bell than any bell from Rome.  He also has a hard time with the way the French assign gender roles to words, for example: "Because it is a female and lays eggs, a chicken is masculine.  Vagina is masculine as well, while the word masculinity is feminine.  Forced by the grammar to take a stand one way or the other, hermaphrodite is male and indecisiveness female."

Back at home is asked to come teach a creative writing class at his old art school.  He had no idea what he was doing.  He had no lesson plan, no curriculum outline for the semester, or any idea of what to do for two hours twice a week.  For a while he has them watch One Life to Live and write a paper explaining what will happen next on the show.  This was met with a bit of failure as no seemed to be in as much thrall with the soap as he was and just didn't "get it".  Both teacher and student were happy that class was over.

This book explores the life of David Sedaris as a child, young adult, and an adult trying to make it while he figures out what to do with his life. It also explores the differences between France and the U.S. and his relationship with  both, as well as his relationship with Hugh, the nicest guy you can imagine.  David had an odd childhood and grew up to be an even odder adult.  Will he ever, as the title suggests "Talk Pretty One Day"?  Who knows, but he does try.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Me-Talk-Pretty-One-Day/dp/0316776963/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465836956&sr=1-1&keywords=me+talk+pretty+one+day+by+david+sedaris

That Summer by Lauren Willig


This novel, a non-Pink Carnation one (if you haven't read those, they are about English female spies during the Napoleonic Wars, and they are fabulous) takes place in 2009 and in 1849.  New Yorker and jobless Julia Conley learns she has just inherited her great aunt's house outside London.  Her great aunt was the one who raised her mother, who died in a car accident when Julia was five, and whom her stiff surgeon father, refuses to ever talk about.  When she arrives she is greeted by her annoying cousin Natalie, who wants the house and the "secret treasure" supposedly hidden there.  The object of Natalie's affection, that is not reciprocated, Nick, an antique shop owner, shows up with her to help go through the many piles of junk in the old Victorian house. 

A treasure, of sorts, is found by Julia.  She finds a hidden Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood painting that is unsigned. If you don't know who they are, please look them up.  The paintings are gorgeous with fascinating subject matter from literature, myths, and the bible.   They included Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millias, William Holman Hunt, and later others such as Edward Burne-Jones.  This particular painting was done by a fictional painter, Gavin Thorne, who also painted a portrait of Julia's ancestor, Imogen Grantham in 1849.

The books hops back and forth from 2009 to 1849 and the story of Imogen, a young girl who falls for an older man, Arthur Grantham, a wine merchant, and marries him, even though her dying father advises against it.  They have a love of medieval maps and artifacts in common and Imogen imagines a life studying these things with her husband, while watching over his seven-year-old daughter, Evie.  They are greeted by the dour Miss Cooper, Arthur's sister-in-law by his first marriage.  Soon, however, she finds things are not as she imagines.  She has two miscarriages, and finds herself locked out of her husband's study and life.  Her only bright spot is Evie. 

Ten years later, when Arthur has Thorne paint his wife's portrait in the summerhouse in the garden, the two soon become friends and much more, as Imogen finally finds someone whom she can share not only her thoughts with but also her body.  The problem is, at this time in history, Arthur owned her, and if she left, she would ruin Evie in society.  Evie herself, is having a secret rendezvous with a painter who is trying to seduce her for her money.  Imogen must protect Evie, even if it might mean the end of her affair. 

In 2009, Julia begins to have flashbacks to when her parents lived in England and to what happened on the night of the crash.  She also becomes close to Nick, but quickly finds excuses to push him away, as she has with countless others, before she can be hurt.  With Nick's help they investigate the mystery behind the two paintings and what really happened all those years ago. 

This book was a delight to read, perhaps due to my love of the Pre-Raphaelites and their paintings.  I could barely put the book down for the night because I wanted to find out what happened next.   If you haven't read any of Lauren Willig's works you should.  This is one of her best novels and that is saying something, considering how well written the Pink Carnation series is.  This is a Must Read!

Quotes:  

The past is a distant country.
--Lauren Willig (That Summer p 10)
.

That was one of the nice things about Helen: she always did sound genuinely pleased.  There were times when Julia felt a bit guilty for not having been more of the daughter Helen so obviously wanted and would have been happy for her to be.
--Lauren Willig (That Summer p 107)


Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/That-Summer-Novel-Lauren-Willig/dp/125002787X/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465822382&sr=1-2&keywords=that+summer

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Mother Can you NOT? (And you thought your mom was nuts...) by Kate Siegel


Kate Siegel is the creator of the Instagram sensation @CrazyJewishMom. It started off simple enough. She just began taking pictures of the crazy texts that took place between herself and her mother, director  Kim Fieldman, and post them on Instagram. Soon enough it took off and she found herself on all the talk shows and being interviewed for various web-news organizations such as The Huffington Post. While this was going on she was working at various magazines. She quit to write this book and do the account full time. Her big dream was always to be a writer anyway and her mother raised her to take risks.

Kate and her mother have what maybe some would say is a very unusually close relationship. She herself calls her mother a stalker. Her mother knows EVERYTHING, because she generally tells her everything (although when she gets older in college sometimes the details get fuzzy or glossed over) and her mother tells her EVERYTHING. And there is nothing Kim Friedman would not do to help her daughter fulfill her dreams, which means Kate learned early on to be careful in what she told her mother what she wanted to do, like when she told her she wanted to be a singer (which she was terrible at) and her mother made a hilarious attempt to have a photo shoot set up that goes horribly wrong. Her mother's dream is of a college degree, a career, marriage to the perfect person, and grandspawn someday, just like any Jewish mother (or any mother for that matter). She just has her own way of going about it throughout the book.

Her mother had given her a vague idea of sex when she was eight, due to a scare at camp. Later when it came time to REALLY tell her she used some weird book to do it that had "Seuss-esque illustrations, and it included the phrase 'This fits here!' I remember screaming 'WHAT! That is DISGUSTING!' Then I shouted across the house to my father and made him join in on the fun. When he opened the door, I shoved in his face a page depicting a cheerful pink man mounting a fuchsia woman.... 'Dad, do you know about this?!' 'I...well...uh' 'Oh my God!!! I am NEVER EVER EVER...doing that!...'Ewwwww, does that mean you peed in Mom to get me?!' 'Well, uh, not exactly,' My dad looked down at his shoes. 'How does that even work? Do you move around?' I conducted an unbridled, Guantanamo-like interrogation, referencing the diagrams that displayed colorful stick figures having sex in every position under the sun. It was the Kama Seusstra. My parents answered all my questions patiently, and then I asked this: 'Well, which position did you guys use to make me?' So "the talk" was going well for my parents!"

She promised she would not tell any of the other kids at school anything she had learned, as her parents explained that each parent wants to tell their kid in their own way at their own time. But with so much information in her head she felt she would burst, so she told her best friend whose mother called her mother and Kate was given the kiss of death from a parent: I am so disappointed in you. It turns out the girl's mother told her daughter that Kate was a liar and and an evil girl and to not be friends with her anymore. She also told the other mothers that Kate was a sexual sicko so no one would be friends with her. This was a grave mistake on her part as it made Kim get involved.  You just do not mess with a mother bear and her cub. Kate says she did always wonder if the girl ever did find out about the whole sex and facts of life thing.  Kate, herself, was a late bloomer and did not have her first period until she was fourteen. When she did she was at school and she called her mother who gave her a light "slap" on the face, as is the Jewish custom known as "The Menstrual Slap" which is supposed to be "a woman's warning to guard her gates against premarital sex" or a reminder that "a woman's life is filled with pain."  She then yelled "MAZEL TOV!" and told her she would pick her up after school. Kate spent some time at the CVS store being embarrassed as her mother asked the MALE clerk what tampon was best. When she got home her dad had decorated the house with crimson balloons, panty liners, a Midol basket, and streamers. It was a "period party" that her mother had likely been planning for years. Her dad (the cook of the family) made clams in red sauce and red velvet cake. They put on a CD with songs centered on "girl power" and while she was embarrassed at first to find out that her dad knew, she had the time of her life that night.

The only thing her mother possibly loves more that her is her pets. I believe right now she has four dogs, two cats, and some fish. When her beloved cat Snowflake died suddenly, her mother had some kind of breakdown. She jumped into the small cat grave and decided there was no way any animal of hers would be put in the cold earth. So her mantel over the fireplace is almost filled with urns. After a respectable grieving period, Kate's dad thought it would be a good idea to help her mom by taking her to the shelter and get another cat.  Her mother's response? "So if you die, I should just go out the next day, find another husband, and pretend you never existed?" Still, they managed to drag her there and a brusque woman named Pat showed them the animals. Suddenly, Kate spotted Snowflake's twin. However, Pat informed them firmly that the cat was not up for adoption because it was too sick and that they were going to put it down. Now, Kim is a bulldozer of a person and she wanted this cat, so she exploded in a rage at Pat and went completely off on her threatening to call news stations and protest. Then when this didn't work, she did a 180 and began sniffling and acting all meek and began bawling on Pat's chest. This made Pat uncomfortable enough to leave, which was Kim's plan all along. She got the cat and placed it in Kate's messenger bag and they sneaked it out of there to a chorus of dog's barking.

Kim could wrangle people into doing things they did not plan on doing. "My mother could convince a sorority girl to eat gluten. Mel Gibson to get circumcised. Bill Cosby to undergo voluntary chemical castration." She says she has thought about starting a support group for her "victims".  A prime example of this was when Hurricane Sandy hit and Kate's dad came to pick her up at her place in New York, because she had no running water or electricity. While they were driving back listening to the radio, they heard Kim pleading for help for her pets. It seems that she when she had gone out to get pet food and tried to come back, there were barriers up preventing her from going back home which was now an evacuation zone. She gave out her personal number, called Governor Chris Christie a "cat killer" and asked if this went on for two weeks would he be able to go without food? When Kate calls her she shouts on the radio "DOES CHRIS CHRISTIE WANT TO KILL MY DAUGHTER TOO?" Kate and her father are trying to talk her down before she gets arrested again (she has a long history of getting arrested for protesting going back decades and includes breaking into the Pentagon).  Her mother clicks off to take another call and when she comes back it turns out that poor Lenny, the fireman, has been caught in her web. He probably offered to do something simple and now has found himself sneaking her across the border to her house to rescue her pets.  She also cannot resist doing anything to help someone that needs it--even perfect strangers. As a matter of fact, the world is her best friend (unless you cross her or her family). 

I'd love to tell you about the numerous stories of her mother looking for a man for her, advising her on relationships, the Princeton Rabbi's magical powers, and her overprotective need to keep her safe that leads to an incident with the TSA.  But then you would have nothing to look forward to! This book is just flat out, laugh-yourself-off-the-couch funny. Few women have this kind of relationship with their mothers. I have no relationship with mine and I'm jealous of hers, even if her mom does embarrass the devil out of her to the point that I know I would want a huge hole to swallow me up. This is the kind of relationship that should be celebrated. Not every mother-daughter relationship is made to be this way and some of us may be glad of it. But it is so much fun to read about the ones that are.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Mother-Can-You-Kate-Siegel/dp/1101907045/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465408267&sr=1-1&keywords=mother+can+you+not+by+kate+siegel





Monday, June 6, 2016

The Runner-Up Presidency: The Elections That Defied America's Popular Will and How Our Democracy Remains in Danger by Mark Weston


I should start off my saying that this book does not lean left, right, center, up, or down. Weston's main objective is to educate the reader on the electoral college, past elections, and possible solutions to fixing a system that is not fool-proof right now. Mark Weston, born in New York, graduated from the University of Texas Law School and lives in Sarasota, Florida right now and none of the craziness of both of those states have managed to rub off on him yet. He has spent most of his life working as a journalist at ABC Television and News as well as the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angles Times. He's written two books: one on the history of Saudi Arabia and one titled The Lives of Japan's Greatest Men and Women. He even wrote a play about George Orwell. His book is filled with lots of interesting tid-bits of information that I will place (along with my own) at the bottom so as not to interrupt the review with them.

This book was published in early 2016, which means it was written in 2015. So, Weston did not know what we know now. But when you read this book you will wonder if he had some kind of crystal ball or has second sight, because when he explains about things that are probabilities, they can be in fact be quite possible now. At the beginning of the book he includes a chart of the probability of another runner-up president like we had in 1888 when Harrison beat Cleveland and 2000 when Bush beat Gore. In both cases the loser had the more popular votes, but lost because the other candidate had a majority of electoral votes. He says it's not a question of "if" but "when" this will happen again and that we must do something to try to stop this.  If this keeps happening the people will stop trusting the system even more than they already do.

"Six weeks after the November presidential election, on the Monday closest to the middle of December, the electors who supported the presidential candidate who won the most popular votes in their state meet in their state's capital...to officially cast their state's electoral votes for president and vice president."  In 21 states electors can vote however they please, but in 29 states they have to make a pledge to vote the way the political party wants them to, though it is not legally binding.  It is to be said that electors do vote for their party's candidate 99.9% of the time. Since 1820, only 11 have not, which is pretty amazing. Then the governor certifies the results and sends them to the president of the Senate. Some electors do get paid a fee somewhere between $10 or less for their services to what a legislator would make in a day. The state of Washington gives them $88 a day for lodging, $61 a day for meals, and 56.5 cents per mile for driving. On January 6, the House and Senate meet to count the votes and the vice president presides over this and announces the winner. This is why Gore had to announce that Bush won back in January of 2001.

Our system has two "quirks". One is pro-rural and one is pro-urban. The one that is in favor of the rural comes form Article II of the Constitution where it gives each state two votes automatically, representing the two Senators it has and then a vote for each Representative it has. This means that little populated and small states get at least 3 electoral votes no matter what. The second is "winner-take-all" which came about after a huge mud slinging campaign between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in 1788. It should be noted here that candidates would not campaign themselves until Theodore Roosevelt and William Jennings Bryant in the 20th Century. Before then it was seen as very unseemly. You should be above the fray and let other do the dirty work. Also, there was no one day that the people voted. That would not happen until 1834. The people in the states voted anywhere from springtime to fall, with South Carolina (as usual) coming in last around December 2. At this time, a state's electoral votes could go to whatever candidate the elector chose, which meant that one state could have x number of votes go to Jefferson and any number of votes go to Adams. Virginia did not want this to happen again, so they changed their state election laws and made the state a "winner-take-all" so in four years Adams could not take any of their votes. This caused Massachusetts to do the same. Over time, other states would do the same because it was hurting them not to. The last one to do so was, of course, South Carolina, in 1868.

But that is not the end of the Jefferson and Adams story. In 1802 the two would be running again, so Jefferson was thinking ahead and he had help with Aaron Burr. He wanted to make sure all of his party was in control at the state and national levels. Of course the electors did vote the right way. Originally the Founders gave each elector two votes for president, so they could vote for someone from their state and someone outside of it. They hadn't thought of a national election or that people would want to vote for people outside their state, nor did they foresee political parties. So when Adams won, Jefferson was automatically his vice president, which made things rather awkward for the two men. Which is why the next time around the candidates would have their own vice presidential running mates. The problem came when the electors voted their two votes. They voted one vote for either Adams or Jefferson and then one for Burr or Pinckney, the two vice presidents. John Jay, another man running for president got one vote. This led to a count of Jefferson 73, Burr 73, Adams 65, Pinkney 64, and Jay 1[This all happened to be South Carolina's fault as they were the last one's to vote and someone did not vote for Pickney like he was supposed to, but for Burr]. A majority was reached, but it was reached by two men. Which meant that this would go to the House of Representatives to be voted on for president: one state one vote until a majority was reached. This was part of Article II of the Constitution and meant that the state of Deleware with only one representative had just as much say as New York with it's twelve Representatives.

Now, Hamilton really did not like either Jefferson or Adams by this time. Hamilton wanted a federal government so strong it would elect the governors. He was hoping that South Carolina's Pinckney would win. Now he was terrified that Burr would become president. He hated Jefferson, but he was the lesser of two evils. Hamilton quickly began his trash talking letter writing campaign  saying that Burr was power hungry and would have us at war in no time. The Federalists were working behind the scenes themselves to try to sway Representatives to vote for Jefferson, the Democrat-Republican Candidate (They were called Republicans for short, even though they would become the modern day Democrats. Yes, our government has been confusing us for a very long time.) as they were trying to convince Jefferson to agree to not renounce the national debt, disband the navy, or ally with France in the Napoleonic War. Jefferson was being the stubborn redhead that he was about the whole thing and time was passing quickly. If no president is elected by Inauguration Day (March 4 back then), then at this time, the Speaker of the House is sworn in as the temporary president until the House can get it's act together. All Burr had to do to prove that he was not power hungry person Hamilton said he was, was to say he did not want the presidency, but he could not do that. That was enough, along with Jefferson finally giving a weak promise to the Federalists, to end the election. It also gave us the Twelfth Amendment in 1802 which had electors cast one vote for president and one for vice president and that if no one gets a majority of votes the top three candidates will go to the House to be voted on for president. The Senate votes on the vice president. However, the one state, one vote was kept.

Another quirk that we could very well be looking at in this election, happened in 1824's election. Now, you may not believe me, but in my opinion, this election is the craziest one we have ever had. For one thing the four people running were all Democrat-Republicans. Those running were: Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, General Andrew Jackson, Speaker of the House Henry Clay, and  Secretary of the Treasury William Crawford. This was a rare time in our history when there was only one party. The Federalist has just died out, the Whigs were about to form, and the real Republicans wouldn't form until 1854.  On top of that, John C. Calhoun, the pro slavery man from South Carolina who would become a real firebrand later, but was now a lot tamer, was running as both Adams's and Jackson's vice president.  It was also the only election, I believe where there was no mud slinging as they were all of the same party as President Monroe, the outgoing president whom they all admired and did not want to offend. The popular vote was Jackson 41%, Adams 31%, Clay 13% and Crawford 11%. The electoral vote was Jackson 99, Adams 84, Crawford 41, and Clay 37. No one reached a majority so according to the Twelfth Amendment the top three candidates got to go to the House of Representatives for them to vote on who was to be president. One state, one vote until a majority is reached.

The author believes that it is a good thing that Clay did not make the cut, as he would have been voted president and this would have been disastrous, which I agree with. Clay was a great debater and negotiator and a great man to put band-aids on our nation that would keep the Civil War from happening sooner, but he was not president material.  As he was out of the race, the House re-elected him Speaker and Clay was in a position to influence who would be president and the person he wanted was Adams. With a lot of back room dealings and serious convincing of one New York Representatives that left the man in tears and the final vote on February 9, 1825 was Adams 18, Crawford 14, and Jackson 2. Jackson is the only person to ever to win the most electoral votes and the most popular votes and lose the presidency. Jackson and Martin Van Buren, the man who would be his vice president, went about destroying Adams in the press. The election of 1828 was the dirtiest in our history with the people of both parties hitting below the belt saying that Adams had "pimped for Czar Alexander I when he was Minister to Russia" and of Jackson that his wife Rachael was a bigamist, because when she married Jackson her divorce had not been finalized.  Jackson won in a landslide, but his wife died weeks after the election and he blamed the magazine that printed the story for her death and never forgave Adams for not putting a stop to it.

The last time we had a close call to having an election go to the House was in 1968 when Nixon, Humphrey, and George Wallace were all running against each other. This is another one of those people are complicated moments. I am not defending these people or their actions. I am also not condemning them with hell-fire and brimstone either. Wallace once rescued a black child from being beaten up by a group of white kids because he believed in a fair fight. He lost his first bid for the governor seat to a man who was connected to the KKK, an organization he wanted nothing to do with. In 1968 the peaceful race movement had turned militant and race riots erupted across America. Wallace told a reporter that whenever he tried to talk about things like roads and schools no one seemed interested, but once you started in on n****** they would stomp their feet.

Whites from all four corners did not want their kids bused to black schools. There were long haired hippies protesting against the war becoming more violent, as seen at the Democratic convention. The crime rate had risen, which was due to many variables, including such things as poverty, living in close quarters, drugs, etc... But the people saw the violence on their TV and here was George Wallace saying he was for law and order and stopping busing and desegregation. None of them considered themselves racists [Keep in mind they are a product of their time.] they just wanted things to be safe and normal again. So he was appealing to a wide demographic in both the North and the South as well as the Midwest. 



Wallace had an agenda, though. He knew he would never have enough votes to get elected president, but he knew he could get enough to get it kicked to the House. His plan was to bargain with one of the candidates before the election day, offering his support if they would guarantee to support some of his ideas. And he would have succeeded if it hadn't been for the man he had just chosen as running mate at the beginning of October. A seven minute talk with the press on October 3, 1968 would pretty much torpedo his plan. He had the choice between Albert "Happy" Chandler and retired four-star general Curtis LeMay, who agreed to run with him once Wallace assured him he wasn't a racist and that he was in favor of staying in Vietnam. LeMay's problem was that he was pro-nuke and before the announcement in front of the press they emphasized to him how he was not to talk about nukes under any circumstances. Unfortunately, or fortunately, he did (He said he would rather "be killed by a nuclear  bomb than a rusty knife.") and that was it. Humphrey pulled ahead in the polls closing the gap on Nixon. The final count was Nixon 301 (43.4%) Humphrey 191 (42.7%) Wallace 46 (13.5%).  Of course the author does a "what if" Wallace had chosen Chandler as a running mate how might it have shaken down.

The author covers the Bush v. Gore election, the Rutherford B. Hayes election of 1876, Benjamin Harrison election of 1888 and how Obama nearly became a runner-up president himself. Actually, he goes back and covers many elections over the years and how close they really were. He also offers some solutions to how to fix the electoral college so that the chance of having another runner-up president could be cut down by an extensive margin including graphs which show how elections would have gone on a state-by-state basis for certain close elections. He makes a very good argument and he is right about the electoral college needing to be fixed. He is also right in the likelihood of this happening being slim as the last time we changed it was back in 1804 with the 12th Amendment. It would take another Constitutional Amendment to do so and many have tried and failed, the last time being thirty-five years ago. We should have done something after the Bush/Gore election, but we did not and now we are faced with not only the possibility of another runner-up president in this very election, but also, if a third party candidacy enters, of the whole three-ring-circus going to the House. It is too late to do anything for this election, but we do need to think about what to do in future elections if we want to keep our faith in a system that we can trust.

Two Redheaded Presidents: Thomas Jefferson had a temperament like mine. When our redheaded temper flared it was like a volcano, but it did so not very often. Jackson, on the other hand, WAS a walking volcano. He fought in more than a dozen duels (mostly to avenge his wife's honor) and would defend any woman who had been slighted. He fired his whole Cabinet, except the Postmaster General, when they refused to apologize and accept one one member's wife because she had a (well deserved) shady reputation that they and their wives gossiped about and refused to invite to events.  When a man made the mistake of trying to assassinate him by shooting a gun that misfired twice, Jackson took his wooden walking stick (He used a walking stick because he had been shot in the leg at least once. During his first duel he had also been shot close to the heart.)  and nearly beat the man to death with it. This is a lesson on not to tick off a redhead. If I had not had a walking stick I would have beaten him roundly about the head with his own gun. His men pulled him off the guy. Yes, Jackson does deserve to be taken off the $20 for what he did to the Native Americans. Keep in mind, though, that he has a real beef with the Brits who were awful to him as a teen in the Revolutionary War and it was the Brits who were egging on the Tribes to attack Americans. When the Creek massacred the men, women and children at Fort Mims in Alabama, Jackson and his men were sent in to deal with it and when  they did they were enraged and killed 900 Creek (Adopting one of the orphan boys) themselves and took their land, which, yes, Jackson believed belonged to America. He was a man of his time. And wrong. Later he would be sent in to fight the Seminoles (Yes, the Brits had gotten to them too.) in Florida, which was a fight he would lose. So during his presidency he would send the Cherokee on the Trail of Tears, which is unforgivable. But you can see why he didn't like Native Americans. Some say he believed that the whites were just going to take the land anyway. It was still no excuse. He also created the National Bank and got rid of our National Debt. Yes, we were debt free for the entire time Jackson was president. He as also the first president to really use the veto and he kept South Carolina from succeeding and watched while Texas fought for Independence from Mexico and almost got us into a war with France over an unpaid debt and his hot temper. We are fiery, us redheads. Oh, and North and South Carolina fight to this day over where he was born. Jackson was born in the middle of nowhere at a time when the borders were a bit blurry. Neither state will ever give him up.

Chester A. Arthur: He was nicknamed the "Dude President", which makes you wonder if he had a carpet in the White House "that really tied the room together."

When Harrison was president he tried to make sure that the Blacks were being allowed to vote by fighting for a bill to hire inspectors to watch congressional elections. "The House passed the bill in 1890...In the Senate, however, Republicans from the West saw a chance to win new allies in their quest for a silver-backed currency, and joined southern Democrats to defeat the bill on a procedural vote, 35-34. Colorado's Senator Edward Wolcott said, 'There are many things more important and vital to the welfare of our nation than that colored citizens of the South shall vote.'"

Adlai Stevenson: My whole life I thought there was just one Adlai Stevenson who was vice president and who ran for president from the early 1900s all the way to the 1950s. I just thought he was a very old man. It turns out the first one, the vice president to Glover Cleveland was the grandfather to the second one who would run for president in the 1950s. There ought to be a law about using the same name to run for office. In Hollywood you are not allowed to use the same name as another actor. It should be the same for politics. Less confusion. I did the same with the English Moores and Cromwells.

Gouveneur Morris: Bronx-born Gouveneur Morris (Three neighborhoods in the New York City borough are named after him: Morris Heights, Mirrisania, and Morris Park) is a little known Founding Father. It was his idea that the people vote for the president rather than the legislature (Blame Sherman's grandfather for the electoral college idea). He was also known to improve documents and add a little style. Madison and Hamilton gave him the Constitution to work on and he witteled it down from 12 articles to 7 and wrote the famous Preamble ("We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union...").  He also had a peg leg from jumping out a lady's window when her husband came home. He was quite the ladies man.

Why your vote counts: Some say Hitler won with a vote. Some say Kennedy won with a vote. Kennedy beat Nixon in the popular vote by 1/6 of 1%. So, maybe not one vote, but it was awfully close. And, by the way, no one really knows the true popular vote count in that election due to Alabama. They had 5 pro-Kennedy electors and 6 unpledged, pro-segregation electors. The six unpledged have always hinted that they would have voted for Kennedy, even though they cast their votes for Senator Harry Byrd of Virginia. So it is unclear what the exact popular vote was in Alabama. This book gives numerous accounts of elections where the candidate won by less than a percentage point or even by only a few thousand.  Your vote matters.

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Runner-Up-Presidency-Elections-Americas-Democracy/dp/1493022571/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1465223898&sr=1-1&keywords=the+runner+up+presidency



Friday, June 3, 2016

The All Girls Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg


This wonderful novel, by the author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop CafĂ©, is about a 59 year old Alabama woman who suddenly finds out that she is adopted and that her birth mother is named Fritzi Jurdabralinski and her father is unknown.  She has grown up under the rule of a tyrant of a mother named Lenore, who heavily values the Simmons name and the heritage that goes with it.  She forced her daughter Sookie Poole to do all sorts of things her entire life that she was never good at.  The only time she stood up to her mother was when she married her husband, who is a dentist, that her mother didn't approve of.  Suddenly Sookie goes from being a English Southern Methodist to being a Polish Catholic who is a year older than she thinks she is. 

She avoids her mother for a while, but when she finally sees her mother and wants to kill her she decides to get help and calls the local psychiatrist.  But she can't have her mother or anyone know because they'll tell her and then she'll have to explain why she's seeing a psychiatrist, so she meets him at a Waffle House, where no one knows her mother. 

This novel goes back and forth between Sookie and the life of her mother and her three sisters, who with their brother help run the family owned gas station in Wisconsin in the 1930s.  Fritzi meets Billy Bevins, a barnstormer, who teaches her to fly and wingwalk.  Soon, she is staring across the country in a flying show and making lots of money.  When her father becomes sick with TB and has to go to a sanitarium to get well and her brother goes into the military along with the other men working there, the girls get together and decide to run the station themselves, with fabulous success.  Unfortunately gas rationing causes the station to close.  So, Fritzi joins the newly formed WASPS, a group of women who are hoping to become part of the military.  They fly planes from plants to wherever they need to go.  Fritzi, a better pilot than most men, is soon joined by her sister Gertrude and Sophie. 

This great book details the exciting life of Fritzi and Sookie, who considers her life to be boring and useless and a waste in comparison.  Sookie must also learn how to deal with her adopted mother, Lenore and come to terms with her childhood and who she really is.  This book is a fabulous journey of two women who live different, but important lives of their own.

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/All-Girl-Filling-Stations-Last-Reunion/dp/0812977173/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464977270&sr=1-1&keywords=the+all+girls+filling+stations+last+reunion+by+fannie+flagg

Not To Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites From a Lifetime Of Film by Kenneth Turan


If you love movies, then this is the book for you.  Turan has been a critic for the Los Angles Times and NPR's Morning Edition as well as a writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide.  That being said, the man knows his movies, from growing up in the fifties and sixties watching old movies on the late show on TV, or sneaking out of the house to go to the cinema. 

Turan chose fifty-four movies, because he didn't want too many on the list and because fifty-four is a derivative of eighteen, which in Hebrew is chai, a lucky number.  After detailing while this movie made his list and giving a good description without giving the movie away, he lists movies to watch after you watch that one and books to follow up on.

While this book does have its fair share of movies I have never heard of, I still read about them because he made me want to see them (if only I had Netflx).  He starts off with the silent films and chooses the French film Fantomas and a double feature of a Buster Keaton and a Max Davidson (a sadly overlooked comedic actor of his time).  During the thirties among those he chooses is the really good classic I am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang that changed life for prisoners and two movies by Leo McCarey, one being Love Affair, a movie so good they remade it twice (once with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr and another time with Annette Benning and Warren Beatty).

For the forties he picks the great period piece with Sir Lawrence Oliver, Pride and Prejudice, as well as the delightful Jimmy Stewart comedy The Shop Around the Corner.  Of course he can't help but put down The Lady Eve and the classic Casablanca.  He also chooses the French film Children of Paradise, that was made while the Germans held Paris and the two writers, who were Jewish, were sneaked out of hiding to do the movie.  However, he does leave out Citizen Kane.

He will tell you that oddly enough, most of his picks come from the fifties.  There is of course All About Eve, The Asphalt Jungle, Sunset Boulevard, Singing In the Rain, and Vertigo (at the time considered a flop). 

The seventies, which is considered a cornucopia of great movies by many critics, he only chose two films for:  The Godfather and Chinatown.  For the eighties he chose three documentaries, which I have not heard of.  The first, I am curious to see.  Its called The Day After Trinity and tells the story of how America's only reason for making the bomb was because the Germans were making one.  When we defeated the Germans, these scientists couldn't stop themselves from going forward, even though they didn't know that the bomb might be needed to stop Japan. They just, out of the thrill of science, felt the compulsion to complete the project.  Trinity is the name of the bomb they dropped to discover if it would work.  Miles away, cows that were white, were turned black. and these scientists were left wondering, in horror, what they had done.

In the nineties he chooses the Merchant-Ives classic Howard's End, and Unforgiven, a movie that Eastwood bought the rights for and then sat on it for ten years until he was old enough to play the role.  For the new century he chose the excellent anime Spirited Away, Of Gods and Men about a group of Monks living in an African country that have a great relationship with the villagers, until a dictator takes over the country and the monks must decide to stay and risk their lives for these villagers who need them, or flee for their own safety.

His last two movies were an Orson Wells double feature: Touch of Evil, a Mexican border drama staring Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh, as well as Chimes at Midnight with Wells playing Falstaff from the Shakespeare plays.

At the end of the book, he lists another fifty-four books, more of which you will be familiar with, to look at as well.  The books he chose are an interesting mix and I look forward to hunting them down on Turner Classics Channel.

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Not-Missed-Fifty-four-Favorites-Lifetime/dp/158648396X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464937370&sr=1-1&keywords=not+to+be+missed+fifty-four+favorites+from+a+lifetime+of+film

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan


This fictionalized account of the relationship between Fanny Van de Griff Osbourne Stevenson and Robert Louis Stevenson, the famous Scottish author of Treasure Island, Kidnapped, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and a book of children's verse. 

Fanny leaves her philandering husband (he actually falls in love with these women and suggests Fanny be friends with them), Sam, in California to go to Antwerp, Belgium, in order to enroll in art classes with her daughter Belle.  She also brings along with her her sons, Sammy and Hervey.  When Hervey, becomes ill with consumption, she goes to a doctor in Paris for help, but he dies anyway.  When her grief drives her slightly mad, the doctor suggests she go to the French countryside for relaxation. 

There she meets Bob Stevenson, Louis's cousin, who helps her through her grief.  He was supposed to act awful and get the Americans to clear out, so his other friends could enjoy the cottage by themselves, but he can't do that.  Louis arrives by canoe after everyone else, and when he sets eyes on Fanny, who is thirty-six-years-old and he is twenty-six, he falls in love.  She, however, will have nothing to do with him at first.  Louis is wild and carefree and so determined to be a writer that he tells his friends to keep his letters for posterity.  Louis's friends do not really like Fanny and often make her feel like an outsider.  They also take no regard to his health and often wear him out and make him sick.

Fanny and Louis go back to Paris and begin an affair, which ends when her husband shows up after two years and wants her back.  So she goes back to California to try once last time to make a go of it, but it fails and she calls Louis to come to her in California. After a lengthy divorce, and Fanny losing her daughter Belle to a ne'er do well painter who is just like her father, Fanny and Louis are married, after she helps him get well. 

Louis was born with bad lungs.  A cold could kill him.  They would spend time across the globe trying to find the right place for him to get better.  He spent his childhood in bed dreaming and inventing stories.  Now, he writes stories from his bed, or has them dictated when his lungs are bleeding and he must not move an arm or he could die.  He learns to write with his left hand as his right often cramps up from his voluminous amount of writing he does.

Treasure Island was written as a story for Sammy.  He had a hard time writing a children's book about pirates and sailors with no cussing.  He had to invent fowl language, such as "shiver me timbers".  When he wrote Jekyll and Hyde, he made Jekyll an evil person, who wants to be able to get away with doing bad things, so he takes a potion to transform himself.  It is Fanny, his ever present listener and writing partner, who tells him that Jekyll should be both good and evil, as that is how everyone in the world is, and the reader will be able to connect with that.

On a trip to America, he discovers that the sea air is good for him, and he has never felt better, so they plan to take a yacht and travel the South Seas.   Six months soon becomes two years at sea, with many stops at various islands.  Poor Fanny can't handle the sea; she becomes sea sick at the thought of a boat, but endures it for him.  Soon, they find the perfect place to lay down roots: Samoa.   While homesick for his beloved Scotland, Louis makes his own place on three hundred acres and Fanny grows coffee and cacao.  They make the islanders who work for them their family.  Belle, who has finally made up with her mother, and her husband arrive to help out.  Louis is so healthy he can ride a horse and climb small mountains. 

Louis begins to write only about the natives and their struggle against the Germans, British, and Americans, who all want to take over the island.  However, no one in the civilized world is interested in hearing what he has to say.  They just want more books like the ones he has written, but the brownies (think Scottish fairies) are rarely visiting him at night anymore.  Islanders say that their land is haunted.  And perhaps it is, because after a couple of years, tragedy strikes both of them, and nothing is the same. 

This book was utterly fascinating.  I haven't read anything by Robert Louis Stevenson, though, now I am sorely tempted.  Fanny herself, was also a writer, though nothing on his scale, just a few short stories and a journal would be published.  Many who knew him, would write biographies about him, so the author had plenty of information to draw upon, including those letters of his.  I loved this book.  Fanny and Louis had a passionate love that was sometimes tender and sometimes explosive as Fanny had a temper and a great caring soul.  She gives up everything for this man, while he gives up living where he wants to live and his friends, whom he soon realizes aren't really his friends.  I can't recommend this book enough.  This is a must read!

Link to Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Under-Wide-Starry-Sky-Novel/dp/0345516540/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1464886655&sr=1-1&keywords=under+the+wide