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, August 31, 2016

The First Fifteen LIves of Harry August by Claire North

This is the story of Harry August, whose father was the "lord of the manor" on an estate in northern England, and upon hearing of his wife's unfaithfulness, rapes the maid. When she becomes pregnant, she is kicked out without references.  She scrapes together the last of her money to pay for a train ticket to Edinburgh, where her family is located.  On the way, she goes into labor in a bathroom and a kind couple delivers him on January 1, 1919.  She bleeds to death before the medic can get there.  She had told this couple about the Augusts who might take him in.  With the help of Harry's biological spinster aunt, who pays the Augusts, their groundskeeper,  to raise the child.  Harry's adoptive mother dies when his is seven and his father retreats inside himself.  Harry then goes on to enlist during World War II, where he saw little action and would go on to lead an unremarkable life, until his death in the 1970s when he dies of multiple melanomas.

Then Harry is born again, in the same manner, but when he reaches the age of four, he has full knowledge of the life he led before.  This drives him, as it does others of his kind, crazy and he is put in a mental institute and jumps to his death off the top of the building at the age of seven. In his third life, he seeks answers in religion and travels the earth searching for the answers to his existence.  Again, he dies of melanoma and is reborn.  This time, he studies medicine and meets the first female surgeon in Britain, whom he marries.  When he slips up and tells her his story, she laughs it off, until the things he says will happen soon, actually  do, she has him committed to a mental institution.   While life in these institutions was horrible at this time, at least he wasn't being put  on any drugs, until one day his psychiatrist has him held down and injects him with what could be LSD, ecstasy, anti-psychotics and various poisons of the day.  When his wife visits he tries to communicate what he is going through, knowing that as a doctor, she could help him, but he is unable to move or talk.

Eventually, a man named MacPherson, a British spy, gets him out of that hellhole, but he has an agenda of his own.  He has heard of a group of people that are mentioned in the small footnotes of history called the Cronus Club, which has been around for centuries and seems to be born over and over again, and therefore has knowledge of the future.  He offers Harry information on the Chronis Club if he will tell  him about future events.  At first, this works out fine. Harry does not give out too many specifics.  But soon, his relationship with MacPherson changes and he wants in-depth details and Harry realizes that he could seriously change the timeline and cause damage.  He escapes, knowing that he will eventually be caught, with the express purpose of mailing two letters: one to his wife via a friend, apologizing for everything and the other to a trusted friend and colleague asking him to please post an ad in three newspapers .  He is then caught and the gloves come off. He is physically beaten, given drugs, and psychologically tortured for three days, before Virginia, a member of the Chronis Club arrives to tell him to meet her at Trafalgar Square on July 1, 1940, and she would explain all.  She tells him he will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in his next life and suggests that since the psychologists of the time were Freudian, he always has the option of the confessional, even if it does freak out the priests.  She gives him a pen knife and suggests the thigh, as the femoral artery hurts less and bleeds out the quickest.     

In his fifth life, he studies physics and meets up with Virginia who gives him an overall view of the club.  There are many in various cities around the world and they are always moving.  The future and past generations communicate with each other by leaving messages on stones and such or by passing it down from person to person.  While he is allowed to play with the timeline a little bit (saving a friend's life, making money off the stock market) they are not allowed to do anything drastic, such as killing Hitler.  They are also expected to donate money to the children's fund to set up new ones in life.  Also, he is never to reveal where and when he was born, or what his true name is.  She explains the two deaths available to the people of their kind: the Forgetting, where their brains are given electrical shocks, wiping the memory clean and then they are killed.  When they are born again, they will have no memory of their previous lives.  The other way is to be killed in the womb and never be born.  That has been done only once before when a man from the thirty-years-war in the 17th Century is tired of all of the death and destruction and wants to do something.  He goes to the most powerful kingdom of the time, France, and tells the king of the future.  Soon, France has taken over Europe and most of Africa.  Technology is accelerated and by 1953 two nuclear bombs are set off from Australia, causing a nuclear winter, killing everything on the planet.   Those that are reborn, send messages back through time about what happened and that this man needs to be stopped and he is killed before being born.

Now, at the end of Harry's eleventh life, a young girl appears at his hospital bed and tells him the news from the future that the earth is ending much sooner than normal.  Harry knows who is behind this, a young student he met as a professor at Oxford.  When he finds him, he gives into the temptation to help him build a Quantum Mirror, which would, to quote Douglas Adams give the answers to "life, the universe, and everything."  Finally, he would know who or what he is and his purpose in life.  Instead of stopping him, he helps him, but the longer he does this, the more he realizes that it is wrong and he must stop him.

Soon the two are locking horns across lifetimes and Harry must resort to sneaky tactics to try to keep this student from his goal, which is already wrecking havoc in the world with the invention of machines years before their time, and the inevitable next step the scientists will take.  Members of the Chronis Club are siding with the student, and Harry must be careful of who he can trust.  More importantly, he must discover the student's origins and end him before he ends the world.      

I read this book in one sitting.  I could not put it down.  In a way, these two men have all the time in the world; the truth is this is a game and the stakes are high.  If Harry cannot stop him soon, the world will be lost and everyone in it.  Harry is the only one strong enough and smart enough to win this game, but his student will not go down easy and will try to take Harry down with him.          

Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/First-Fifteen-Lives-Harry-August/dp/0316399620/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472647314&sr=1-1&keywords=the+first+fifteen+lives+of+harry+august                                  

Monday, August 29, 2016

Blackout by Connie Willis


Connie Willis, an inductee into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, has received six Nebula and ten Hugo awards for her writing and this book is an fine example why.  This book takes place mostly in the years 2060 and 1940.  In the year 2060 there are a group of historians who have learned from past historians and no longer try to change the past, but just observe the lives of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances throughout history.  They study, use implants to store memory or change an accent, and do all the things necessary to fit in. 

Something weird is going on.  The head of this organization, Mr. Dunworthy, is changing everyone's schedule around, so their jumps are in different orders and on different days in their time.  There are two ways to time travel: real time and flash time.  Flash time means that no actual time has past in the year 2060.  Real time, means that actual time has passed in 2060.  You are dropped down in a net to a place where no one would see you, or the light that shines when you drop.  When you check in every so often, you go to the same place.  Sometimes there is some slippage, which is what happens when you do not arrive at the exact time or place you planned, usually because someone was there at the spot preventing it.

This book focuses on three people: Eileen, a first year historian who was sent to the country to observe the sending of the children from London to the country during 1940; the second is Michael who is sent to 1939, in the hopes of seeing the English fishermen rescuing the British military from Dunkirk; and the third is Polly who is supposed to be a shop girl in London in 1940.  Polly has memorized the times of the bombs and where they occur in London, in order to protect herself. 

Soon, the three find that their drop site is no longer working and they have no way back to 2060.  Is something going on back home and that is why Mr. Dunworthy was acting weird and changing assignments?  Or did Michael accidentally change time by being at Dunkirk and saving a soldier's life.  Polly has not told them, but her time is limited.  You can not be at the same time period and Polly is in London in 1945 for V-E Day and it could kill her if she is still there at that time.  Also, she only knows the bomb drops for the year 1940.  After that, they are on their own.

This book combines the excitement of World War II with the wonderment of technology from the future.  Sadly, it is not one book.  Once you finish it, you must go out and hunt down the next book All Clear, which is what I am in the process of doing, because I can not just leave them hanging in a world they know only so much about, and that from history books.  Things are not happening the way they are supposed to be happening and the three are scared they might have caused England to lose the war.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Blackout-Connie-Willis/dp/0345519833/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472480149&sr=1-4&keywords=blackout

Friday, August 26, 2016

Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott


In this incredibly fascinating look at four women, two from the North and two from the South, Abbott examines their incredible feats and exploits during one of the most devastating wars in America.  She follows Belle Boyd, a seventeen-year-old Southern rebel, Mrs. Rose Greenhow, a conniving spy for the Confederacy, Emma "Frank Thompson", who served in the medical corp and as a spy for the North, and Elizabeth Van Lew, a Unionist from Richmond, who helped men escape from prison and helped a great spy network all under the watchful eyes of top Southern military men and even President Jefferson Davis.

Belle Boyd's first entry into the war was when in her divided town of Martinburg, Virginia, in the Shenandoah Valley, killed a Union soldier who was molesting her mother.  Soon she was riding her horse Fleeter to deliver messages to different regiments and give them intel she gleaned with her grace and charm from Union soldiers during the various times her town was taken over by them (on one day the town changed hands thirteen times).  Belle wanted to be famous and "feared the enemy might forget her very existence unless she took measures to remind them."  She was instrumental in the Shenandoah Campaign and flew across a battlefield, her hat flying, to get news to Stonewall Jackson that the Union troops were few and that he should push ahead. Eventually her deeds would have her end up in prison in Washington D.C., where every whim she had was catered to.  She would be released on the condition that she not come north again, which she disregarded when her family became ill and her hometown was now West Virginia, a Northern state. 

Mrs. Rose Greenhow of Washington D.C. had two older daughters she sent to California for the duration of the war, but kept her eight-year-old daughter Little Rose with her.  Rose could romance a great deal of information from Senators and high ranking officers and was considered the reason the South won the Battle at Manassas (otherwise know as Bull Run).  She had a complicated network of female spies all around town.  Before the first year of the war was up she was captured by Pinkerton, the self proclaimed head of the "secret service" and a spy catcher.  They arrest Rose and her daughter (whom she also uses to pass along information) and put them in jail.  After a few months, she and her daughter are granted their freedom if she promises to not go back into the North.  This will be not the only thing she does for the Confederacy, though.

Emma, a nineteen-year-old woman from Canada, had been impersonating a man in order to get out of a planned wedding to a lecherous old man.  When the war started she immediately joined up, believing it God's will.  She mainly stays in the medical corps helping to bring soldiers off of the battlefield.  She also went undercover as a slave twice and once as an old woman to glean information about the South's military.  She was constantly in fear of being discovered as a woman, and she wasn't the only woman to fight as a man, there were many, but she still chose two different men to confide her secret to and they kept it.

Elizabeth Van Lew, her mother, and her brother, John, let their slaves buy their freedom and she even let her own slave, Mary Jane, receive an education at a Quaker school in Pennsylvania, before the war.  At first Elizabeth doesn't know how she can help.  She starts by visiting the soldiers in the hospital, bringing food and other items.  Soon, though she concocts a plan that involves one of the Confederate officers of the prison, who would pick a soldier out and then have him secretly put on a Confederate uniform and send them to her house, where they would hide out until they could be secreted out and given directions and messages about the military in Richmond on their way to the Northern side.  She even gets her maid, Mary Jane, who had an eidetic memory, employed at the Confederate White House to memorize Davis's papers and send the messages in Mrs. Davis's dresses that were to be mended.  The North would go through many Generals before Hooker (yes, the General whose army had so many prostitutes that that is where the name comes from) realized there was an excellent and effective spy ring right there in Richmond and began using it.  She was constantly under suspicion and had her house searched.  Most of her neighbors hated her for her views and what they suspected she might be doing.

These four women risked everything for their countries during a devastating war, where you never knew who to trust or who might be a spy trying to entrap you into giving yourself away.  They are heroes, just as the men who fought the war were.  They weren't the only women fighting this war, though.  Some women hid supplies and weapons inside their voluminous skirts ("One woman managed to conceal inside her hoop skirt a roll of army cloth, several pairs of cavalry boots, a roll of crimson flannel, packages of gilt braid and sewing silk, cans of preserved meat, and a bag of coffee...") across distances to get them to the soldiers.  Sadly, though, their life after the war wasn't as happy.  I highly recommend this book that looks into the lives of these four incredible women.

 Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Liar-Temptress-Soldier-Spy-Undercover/dp/0062092901/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472215091&sr=1-1&keywords=liar+temptress+soldier+spy+four+women+undercover+in+the+civil+war

Monday, August 22, 2016

Marbles, Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me: A Graphic Novel by Ellen Forney


In 1998, not too long before turning thirty, Ellen Forney, an artist, finds out that she is manic depressive and is in fact having a manic episode. Her psychiatrist wants to put her on medication but she worries that the meds will effect her art and creative mind, so she refuses at first.  She does research into other artists who have been mentally ill and if she's a manic depressive, it's pretty cool to be included in the "crazy artist" club, which includes such people as Gaugan, van Gogh, Gorky, Michelangelo, Munch, O'Keeffe, Pollack, Rossetti, Rothko, Baudelaire, Blake, Burns, Byron, Dickinson, Eliot, Hugo, Keats, Millay, Plath, Poe, Sexton, Tennyson, Whitman, Hans Christian Anderson, Twain, Conrad, Dickens, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Ibsen, James (both), Mary Shelley, Tolstoy, Williams, Woolf, and Zola.

While she studied these people she found that a lot of them spent time in asylums, made suicide attempts, or succeeded in killing themselves.  Some stats she picked up: the suicide rate in the overall population is 11.2 in 100,000 and attempts is 8-25 per every suicide death, while in the manic depressive population it is an estimated 25%-50% for attempts and 3%-20% for successful suicide death rate.  [Most people cite 15%, but that can vary depending on many factors (On the low end for non-hospitalized groups, on the high end when illness is combined with alcohol abuse, low end for medicine takers, high end shortly after onset of illness, etc...)]   As manic as she is at the moment she views her disease as a superpower or a gift to her creativity and its a good thing that the depression isn't a problem of hers. 

While she's on a manic high, she doesn't feel as though she needs any meds; that she will be fine. She forgets completely the crash that always follows the mania or how out of control the mania can get.  For her thirtieth birthday she decides to throw a huge party to coincide with the release of her first book, a collection of her weekly comic strips, "I Was Seven in '75".  She held it in a club with a local band, had party hats, a friend to emcee the event, a host of different acts to perform on stage, as well as a spin art booth, games, and prizes. 

Afterwards she tells her father and brother, as her mother, a doctor, is the only one knew up until then, except for a few friends.  It turns out mental illness runs in her family and her mother is a bit Cyclothymiaic [Alternating Hypomania and Mild Depression].  The official terms are Bipolar I: Alternating Manic and Depressive Episodes (Ellen); Bipolar II: Alternating Hypomanic and Depressive Episodes; Unipolar Depression: Single of Recurrent Episodes with No Mania; Dysthymia: Chronic, Low-Grade Depression.  The mood chart goes: Mania (Up! Up! Up!); Hypomania (Up!); Mixed States (Up and Down at the Same Time); Rapid Cycling (4 Or More Episodes Within 12 Months); Euthymia (balanced, "Normal"); Dysthymia (Chronically Low); Mild Depression (Low); Depression (low, low, low, low). 

Mania includes the symptoms: inflated self esteem or grandiosity, decreased need for sleep, more talkative or pressure to keep talking, flight of ideas or racing thoughts, distractability, increase in goal oriented activity, excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (gambling, hypersexuality, buying sprees, etc...). Depressive symptoms include: depressed mood every day most of the day, markedly diminished pleasure in all or almost all activities, weight loss or gain, insomnia or hypersomnia, fatigue and loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness and inappropriate guilt, diminished ability to think or concentrate, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide.

Sure enough she crashed into a major depressive episode not long after the birthday party.  That is when she asked her psychiatrist for the lithium. The lithium, however, works best on mania, not depression.  It also has lots of fun side effects like: weight gain, hand tremor, mental slowness, poor concentration, memory problems, acne, "cognitive dulling", liver toxicity (which means you have to drink 3 liters of water a day. In this book, she tries other medicines such as Klonopion (for sleep and relaxation), Depakote (which, like lithium requires blood draws to check on certain things), Celexa, Neurontin, Zyprexa, Tegretol, and Lamictal. Today there are lots more to choose from with lots of side effects. They can all cause weight gain, possible drowsiness, memory loss [manic depression itself causes memory loss], stomach issues, sexual side effects, and many, many more.  You can end up taking more than one medicine.  Perhaps one for depression and one or two to stabilize your moods or mania.  You may also need a sleep medication or something for anxiety, which is also common in those with manic depression. 

While depressed she still made it out of bed and to the couch and maybe that was good enough for that day.  Her mother and psychiatrist were very supportive of her and the friends she told became so too.  She loved to swim and eventually that would be what she would do three times a week like she used to do.  She would learn to find a way to do her cartoon strip no matter how much effort it took her or how long it took her, as this was how she made her living and the rent had to be paid.  There would be an incredible chance to interview a favorite author of hers and she will have to figure out if she can manage that or not.  Before when she was manic she has signed up to do the Danskin Triathlon and she still wants to do it even though she stopped training for it when the depression hit. Will she be able to get out of bed to do it and if so will she be able to finish the race?  There's also a great deal of embarrassment and shame that comes from being manic depressive.  You don't want people to treat you differently or think that you are crazy. 

This book perfectly illustrates what being a manic depressive is like. Forney expertly draws what goes on in the mind of a manic and what it really feels like to be depressed.  You get a real sense of this in her book. She also provides a great deal of useful information for those who fall in the spectrum of manic depression/depressive illness to use to see what is going on in their lives and how to get help. Most important she shows that this is a livable disease and that you can soldier on and make a life for yourself, even if it takes a while to find the right medicine combination.  She also shows that you don't have to be ashamed of being manic depressive. 

Link to Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Marbles-Depression-Michelangelo-Graphic-Memoir/dp/1592407323/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1472050475&sr=1-1&keywords=marbles+mania+depression+michelangelo+%26+me+a+graphic+memoir




Billy's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain


In this NY Times best seller and National Book Award finalist, SPC William "Billy" Lynn is on a two week tour of America with seven other guys who have been deemed heroes of the Al-Ansakar Canal battle in Iraq in Oct of what I will say 2005*. The end of the tour will be a Thanksgiving Day spent at Texas stadium where Destiny's Child is doing the halftime show.  Most of the book takes place there with Billy trying to figure some things out in his head, with a small bit taking place two days before at his parent's place.

"One nation, two weeks, eight American heroes, though technically there is no such thing as Bravo squad. They are Bravo Company, second platoon, first squad, said squad being comprised of teams alpha and bravo, but the Fox embed christened them Bravo squad and thus they were presented to the world."  Who are they? "Herbert known as A-bort...then Holliday known as Day, then Lodis a.k.a Cum Load, Pant Load, or just plain Load, then Sykes who will never be anything other than Sucks, then Koch as in coke which makes him Crack and Crack kills!, especially when he squats and shows a slice of his ass, then Sergeant Dime", there's also the one who barely made it, SPC Lake who is in the hospital with his legs blown off and Sergent "Shroom" Breem, who didn't make it, for whom Billy is having the hardest time dealing with his death, probably because he was a mentor and he was holding him when he died and as he says felt his soul pass on to somewhere.  At Shroom's funeral is the only time they seem to encounter people who seem to hate them. Those evil people with their signs that hold biblical verses and words like "baby killer".   Everyone else seems happy to know that something right is going on over there and that we're killing actual terrorists.

The soldiers have taken on a movie producer Albert Ratner who has practically promised them he will get them $100,000 up front each and a percentage of the backend profits.  So far after two weeks he has not gotten them a deal but now Hilary Swank has shown a real interest only she wants to play Billy's part in the movie. However, Swank won't do the movie without a studio backing it and Albert is having a hard time getting a studio to back it. He's beginning to look at independent investors such as the owner of the Cowboys, Norm Oglesby who is very interested in expanding into making movies.

Part of their day involves meeting the famous Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders and Billy instantly falls for the strawberry blonde Faison with whom he makes out with and she seems taken with him as well.  It becomes a comedy of errors for him to try to get not just her phone number or email address but her last name, as he makes attempts to see her during the game and at halftime.  This is the closest the poor barely virginal Billy has come something real with a woman that he has been looking for over the past two weeks.  He wants something more than just sex with a woman and Faison seems to provide it.

They barely make it through the half-time show as it is a real extravaganza with fireworks and loud noises going off everywhere and they have no real idea where they are supposed to be at any given moment until they are told to march.  Load is drunk off his ass and Sykes is balling his eyes out, but they march on the best they can through the frozen sleet that is falling on the ground and the wretched spectacle that they are forced to be a part of.  It's like some kind of PTSD hell.  Afterward,  the reality of the movie deal begins to become apparent as the clock ticks down to their departure back to Iraq where they will finish their tour of duty, that in a way at this point they are looking forward to.

Throughout the book, Billy is contemplating the meaning of life in a very unique and creative way that only a cynical nineteen-year-old who has seen more than most of us having can.  He was given the choice of going to jail or the Army after he tore apart his sister's ex-fiance's car after the guy broke up with her when she was in a horrendous car accident that left her heavily scarred and needing multiple surgeries that she is still going through.  His sister blames herself for Billy being in danger and does something dangerous herself to try to save her brother.  So Billy has, even more, to think about as the day passes by.  This is not your typical war book and the author has a creative way of writing certain things such as when people crowd up to the Bravos and start saying things the words on the page are haphazard as though they are coming at Billy from every direction and are of course written in the Texas twang dialect.  I also love the way the "Star Spangled Banner" is sung on the page. It is one of the hardest songs to sing and he depicts it so accurately here. This book does seem to be down on Bush, but it was written in 2012 when we knew so much more about his presidency and the WMDs or lack thereof.  But it is not a political book. It is a soldiers book. A soldier who is taking a moment to reflect on life and death as he knows it before going "once more into the breach."

*The author took creative licence with the time line in that the novel the new stadium was announced in April of 2004, which does not fit with the other facts in the book and Destiny's Child sings at halftime and they broke up at the beginning of 2006. In the book they are still in Irving, Texas, but in the book, as you may have noticed, the owner's name is different. The roster is also made up. Yes, I am anal enough to try to pinpoint a year for when this imaginary event took place.

Quotes:


So they’ve lost Shroom and Lake, only two a number man might say, but given that each Bravo has missed death by a margin of inches, the casualty rate could just as easily be 100 percent. The freaking randomness is what wears on you, the difference between life, death, and horrible injury sometimes as slight as stooping to tie your bootlace on the way to chow, choosing the third shitter in line instead of the fourth, turning your head to the left instead of the right. Random. How that shit does twist your mind.
-Ben Fountain ( p 26-7)
 If a bullet’s going to get you, it’s already been fired.

-Ben Fountain ( p 27)
 You can deny him, he thought, watching his father across the table. You can hate him, love him, pity him, never speak to or look him in the eye again, never deign even to be in his crabbed  and bitter presence, but you’re still stuck wit the son of a bitch. One way or another he’ll always be your daddy, not even all powerful death was going to change that.

-Ben Fountain ( p 79)
 There was no such thing as perfection in this world, only moments of such extreme transparency that you forgot yourself, a holy mercy if there ever was one.

-Ben Fountain ( p 103)
 Billy tries to imagine the vast systems that support these athletes. They are among the best-cared-for creatures in the history of the planet, beneficiaries of the best nutrition, the latest technologies, the finest medical care, they live at the very pinnacle of American innovation and abundance, which inspires an extraordinary thought—sent them to fight the war! Send them just as they are this moment, well rested, suited up, psyched for brutal combat, send the entire NFL! Attack with all our bears and raiders, our ferocious redskins, our jets, eagles, falcons, chiefs, patriots, cowboys—how could a bunch of skinny hajjis in man-skirts and sandals stand a chance against these all-Americans? Resistance is futile, oh Arab foes. Surrender now and save yourself a world of hurt, for your mighty football players cannot be stopped, they are so huge, so strong, so fearsomely ripped that mere bombs and bullets bounce off their bones of steel. Submit, lest our awesome NFL show you straight to the flaming gates of hell!

-Ben Fountain ( p 184)
 “When he died, it’s like I wanted to die too.” But this wasn’t quite right. “In a way it was like the whole world died.” But that wasn’t it either. “In a way it was like the whole world died.” Even harder was describing his sense that Shroom’s death might have ruined him for anything else, because when he died? When I felt his soul pass through me? I loved him so much right then, I don’t think I can ever have that kind of love for anybody again. So what was the point of getting married, having kids, raising a family if you knew you couldn’t give them your very best love?

-Ben Fountain ( p 218)
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Billy-Lynns-Long-Halftime-Walk/dp/0060885610/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471876745&sr=1-1&keywords=billy+lynn%27s+long+halftime+walk+ben+fountain



Friday, August 19, 2016

Wings of Fire by Charles Todd


In this second of the Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard, set after World War I, Rutledge is once again sent on a fool's errand to keep him away from a more sensational murders occurring in London by a man the papers are calling the new Jack the Ripper.  This time, a woman from a prominent family has called the Yard because she suspects something is not right after the apparent double suicide of her cousins Nicholas and Olivia and the "accident" of her other relative Stephen, falling down the stairs after their deaths.  In reality, this Lady, Rachael, is in love with Nicholas and can't believe he committed suicide and if he did, then why.  She isn't at all prepared for the trouble the Inspector causes by stirring up old memories and deaths in the family.

First off there is Rosamunde, a Trevylne by birth who married a man named George and had twin
daughters Olivia and Anne.  When George died in India, she remarried a man named Mr. Cheney and had two sons by him, Richard and Nicholas and their cousin Rachel.  When he died of an "accidental" gunshot wound, she married a man named Fitzhugh, who was in charge of her racing horses and had a son named Cormac.  With him, she had twins, Suzanna and Stephen.  The first to die was Anne.  She "fell" out of a tree when she was a young girl.  Then Richard, who went missing when he was a very young boy.  Then Cheney and eventually Fitzhugh, who supposedly fell off his horse on the beach, with a blow to the head.  Lastly was Rosamunde, who "accidentally" took an overdose of laudanum for sleep, just when she was getting her life back and was seeing a new man.

It soon becomes apparent that someone in the family is an evil murderer and Olivia is either that person or is protecting the one who is, perhaps Nicholas.  The house was left to Olivia in her grandfather's will because he didn't want the Fitzhughs getting it, as they were slightly lower class than his family.  Olivia, a cripple never left home and Nicholas remained by her side for the rest of their lives until that fateful night when they either committed suicide or one was murdered and the other committed suicide, or perhaps, even stranger, someone killed them both.

Rutledge, with the voice of the soldier he had killed for desertion during the war, still yelling in his ear that the only reason he doesn't want the murderer to be Olivia is because of her haunting and moving poetry that got many soldiers through the war and was thought to be written by a man, as only a man could know the horrors of which she wrote.  And if it was Olivia or Nicholas, does it truly matter if they're dead?  That's what Rachel wants to know.  She refuses to let him betray Nicholas if he is the killer and he refuses to let it go if it is Olivia.  But there's also the death of Stephen, who inherited Olivia's papers.  Did he find something in them that caused someone to somehow cause him to fall down the stairs?   Or was his death really just an unfortunate accident?

The more you read, the more uncertain you become of who the killer is and what really happened.  It's like a tennis match going back and forth until you're dizzy trying to figure out what really happened.  Rutledge turns to Olivia's poetry and finds some answers, and also a collection of "trophies" from the murdered victims hidden in her room.  Did she put them there, or someone else?  With no proof, he must depend on the small amounts of accounts from the townspeople of the time, especially Sadie, a senile old woman, who has lived through it all and knows more than she is telling, to form the whole picture and find the killer.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Wings-Fire-Inspector-Rutledge-Mysteries/dp/0312965680/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471612371&sr=1-1&keywords=wings+of+fire+by+ian+rutledge

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Hot Zone by Jayne Ann Kretnz writing as Jayne Castle


This book is one of Jayne Ann Krentz's science fiction Harmony books,  when a group of humans left earth and landed on the planet Harmony and set up a base there.  But the curtain between the planet and earth would close and these colonist would be stuck with each other, for better or worse.  Aliens had once lived on this planet long ago and left it.  They are believed to have lived underground in the catacombs that are made of some kind of green mineral.  Over the years, the humans began to develop psi abilities which allowed them to use amber to "rez up" things such as cars, microwaves, cell phones, locks, etc... Some would develop particularly strong psi talents that required the use of amber to do, such as tuning amber (it has a unique frequency and if you go into the catacombs without tuned amber you will wander around until you go mad and die), read auras, handle and create "ghosts", or UDEMs (electrical energy that manifests in the form of a ghost) in the catacombs, music talents, botany talents, the ability to find and handle minerals, the ability to use alien technology.  The list is pretty endless. There are also dust bunnies, mysterious creatures with an endless apatite, who come and go as they please, collect the oddest things, and form attachments with humans. They have the loyalty of a dog who always knows when you need him and the independent streak and the insistence that you take care of his needs first of a cat. They're adorable.

This is the latest Harmony book that takes place on Rainshadow Island, where a dangerous Alien Preserve exists that people go in and are either never seen again, or come back changed forever.  Rainshadow Island is an island of misfit toys.  The people who live there don't seem to fit in anywhere else.  They have recently discovered a catacomb that may connect to the Preserve where dinosaur-like animals are being killed by something.  Cyrus Jones, a Ghost Hunter Guild Boss is sent in to send a team into the catacombs, while those who police the Preserve go into it to try to find out what is going on.  Cyrus, known as Dead Zone Jones, has a power that damps others powers and can form a shield around himself as a protector against danger.  Like Sedona, he has a hard time finding someone who can handle his talent.

Sedona Snow, recently escaped from a mad scientist who experimented on her in a secret catacomb, is a gate opener, closer, and creator, and is now a fire controller.  She goes to Rainshadow Island to get away from everyone.  But everyone seems to want Sedona now, including her ex-Marriage of Convenience partner, who didn't look for her when she went missing and soon had his secretary living with him, when Sedona goes to his door after her escape.

Also, her family on the Snow side have been trying to contact her.  Sedona is the illegitimate daughter of two prominent family members who died when she was young.  By law, the families have to provide for her until she is of age, which they did, then dropped her.  Now, her grandfather wants to set up a trust for her and wants to see her at his birthday party.

When a teen gets caught in a new catacomb filled with quartz and blue quartz, Sedona and a team of ghost hunters, including Cyrus, go down to rescue him.  While she is able to open the gate and get everyone out, she is unable to get herself out, and Cyrus jumps back in to be with her and her dust bunny Lyle.  A storm is raging, which is good, because it is keeping the monsters in the tunnels from getting to them.  They weather it out in a cave and manage to barely escape.

But Sedona is not safe by far.  The evil scientist still wants her, because the formula only worked on her and no one else.  Also, Sedona placed a gate on the formula in the lab where she was being held.  What are her relative's true reasons for wanting her back and will the scientist get her again?  Not if Cyrus has anything to say about it.

Quote:


Any day is a good day so long as you survive to play another day.
--Jayne Castle (Hot Zone p 189)
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Hot-Zone-Rainshadow-Jayne-Castle/dp/0515154725/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471444208&sr=1-3&keywords=Hot+zone

 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Carrying the Black Bag: A Neurologist's Bedside Tales by Tom Hutton, M.D.


Dr. Hutton's stories and life are quite interesting. He graduated from Baylor medical college and got his "black bag" upon graduation and that bag meant more to him than anything as it represented everything that a doctor is.  He went on do his internship at the the Hennepin County General Hospital (also known as "The General") in Minneapolis, a teaching hospital for the University of Minnesota, where he would would do his neurology residency. Eventually, he would take the job as neurology chief resident of the VA Medical Center in Minneapolis.  Then he and his family would move back to Texas in Lubbock where he would have an associate professor's job at a developing medical school where he would be creating a neurological clinical, teaching, and research program where none had existed before that would churn out not trained specialists, but primary care physicians. On top of this he would do a great deal of research into Parkinson's.

During his internship at The General he bemoans the fact that doctors can no longer do what he and others doctors did back then. Around midnight things would calm down and the house doctors would all be in the cafeteria getting something to eat and it would generally be a time for a bull session among interns and residents about cases that could sometimes lead to answers that saved lives.  Sometimes it was just a chance to let off steam about life in general.  These days doctors have little cubbie holes and don't as a rule meet in large groups to have bull sessions together like that anymore. On the other hand, The General is a much nicer hospital now than it was then when it was falling apart at the seams.

His first rotation scared him the most as it was the NICU and sure enough something went wrong. He went to change a boy's diaper and turned his back when suddenly the heat lamp exploded and shards of broken glass landed on the baby's body giving him temporary first degree burns. He completely freaks at what he believes to be a horrendous accident caused by faulty equipment, until a nurse comes in to help him and remarks that the kid must have the aim of Wild Bill Hickok. When he looks at her confused (as do I since I have a daughter not a son) she tells him that as soon as he took the diaper off the boy shot a stream of urine straight up and hit the heat lamp dead on causing the light to burst.  The baby boy was fine once the ointment was put on.  And he learned, as all parents of boys do, to watch out for the boys when changing their diapers.

When he did his maternity rotation the last thing he expected was that he might have to deliver his own kid.  It was one of the worst winters in Minnesota memory and Dr. Hutton's mother had come up from Texas to be with his wife Trudy.  However, when she went into labor even Minnesotans weren't driving out in the weather and the ambulance drivers weren't going out in it, either. So his mother, who had never driven in snow in her life, but was a crazy, and stubborn Texan set out to get her daughter-in-law to the hospital and did in fact get her there, though her son had to give her a Valium when she got there as her nerves were a bit shot. Dr. Hutton had delivered over 200 babies so this should be a piece of cake so long as nothing goes wrong. Something of course, went wrong. His wife was going to require a C-Section and the on-call doctor had already told him that he was snowed in at his house. Dr. Hutton had never even seen a C-Section done much less done one. Never mind doing one on his own wife. He went down and had a chat with the ambulance driver about what was at stake.  I like to think that maybe he shamed him a bit by telling him that his Texas mother made it there and she's never driven in snow before.  Nonetheless the ambulance driver went out and in an hour got the doctor and brought him back to perform the procedure.  Dr. Hutton and his wife had a beautiful baby boy named Andy.  A daughter Katie would follow a few years later.

One of his more memorable patients at the clinic in Texas was Mr. Woodley, an ornery seventy-five-year-old man from Muleshoe who had had Parkinson's for eight years when he first meets him. His wife has been dead for three years and his kids, with whom he is not close with, don't live in the state.  It takes some beating about the bush as to what is going on with Mr. Woodley. It turns out Mr. Woodley is having trouble shuffling cards and wants help with that.  If finally comes out that he plays pinochle with three dogs, a large yellow Labrador named Yellow Dawg, a black-and-white border collie named Skipper, and a small white-and-light-brown cocker spaniel named Coco. He makes sandwiches for them to eat and everything.  The whole scene reminds you of one of those dogs playing poker paintings. Hallucinations can be caused by medication for Parkinson's and as a doctor he should adjust the meds so Mr. Woodley no longer sees the dogs. But the more he talks to him the more he comes to realize how detrimental this would be to the man as he is so lonely out on his farm and the hallucinations are harmless.  This would not be the last problem he would have with Mr. Woodley. The other one would be much worse than this, which is saying a lot.

As a professor and not just a doctor, he had to do research. Publish or perish really does exist in academic circles.  He presented two scientific papers at an international conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. The first "on eye movements and Parkinson's disease, was carefully crafted and painstakingly presented, representing twenty years of my research. While politely received, the paper, I fear, was soon forgotten. My second, more speculative presentation, I had developed over the prior six months. It dealt with Hitler's Parkinson's disease and how his illness might have influenced the Battle of Normandy. My Hitler presentation, to my amazement, created great enthusiasm and immediately went viral."  After about ten years, Parkinson's can cause damage to the frontal lobe of the brain leading to impairment in the the ability to plan, execute, and determine effectiveness of decisions. The author is quick to note that this has nothing to do with any moral or ethical decisions he made during his time as leader of Germany, as he was not impaired that way at all. This is more along the lines of when he should attack the USSR. The idea was to attack them in 1944 when they had all their advanced weaponry, but he moved it up. He also failed to send in reinforcements at Normandy for two days which was a possible game changer in the war.   He refused to change his mind about the Allies attacking in Calais.  He was incapable of delegating smaller decisions to others and got mired down in the details.  The History Channel did a program on it called High Hitler, as Hitler's doctor treated him with some questionable drugs. Dr. Hutton worked on the United Kingdom's Chanel 4 on a program that was called Hitler's Hidden Drug Habit and in the United States it was on the National Geographic Chanel as Hitler the Junkie.

At the clinic, in order to have time to do his research he took on a nurse practitioner who is a real dynamo and a redhead, but I repeat myself.  Her name is Vicki and she has causes that stretch the length of Texas because her heart is so big and so fierce. In the book there are stories of the two of them working cases, but the big one is the cruise at the end of the book. At some point he began to take Parkinson's patients from wherever as long as they passed the physical, on a cruise of the Bahamas and that area. He and his staff would be the ship's specialists along with the on board doctor.  Over the years the cruise had grown in numbers and this last one he describes going on is like the cruise from hell in some aspects as things that had never gone wrong before are going wrong now, as doctors are green lighting patients who maybe should not be there.  At the same time, it's a joy to watch the indomitable human spirit as it refuses to give up and these men and women go on shore excursions or swimming with everything they have.

I really loved this book. Dr. Hutton really cares about his patients. In 1974 he had just embarked on the US-USSR Health Exchange Program to the University of Moscow fellowship. He got to work with the greatest Soviet neurologist Dr. Luria who taught him the importance of reading mysteries in preparing to be a doctor.  He also taught him the importance of viewing a patient's story from their perspective and of medical storytelling, which means getting a detailed account from the patient themselves as to what is going on in their lives, not just what the problem is, because it could all be connected.  This is a doctor that believes in sitting down with you and talking with you for a bit before he digs into to trying to figure out how to solve your problem because the two can be connected and because he cares.  He's not ashamed to admit when he openly weeps over a patient he barely knew for a short period of time.  These stories are sometimes a bit funny, or miraculous, or heartbreaking. They are all thought provoking and while he has retired from practicing medicine, the black bag is always at the ready.

Quotes:
 I asked Professor Luria what he considered to be good preparation for becoming a neuropsychologist and neurologist. The eminent clinician surprised me by answering that reading mysteries was a fine background. He revealed that identifying and cobbling together clues was really no different for making neurological diagnosis than it was for solving crimes. Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, I suppose, would have made fine neurologists.

-Tom Hutton, M.D. (Carrying the Bag: A Neurologist’s Bedside Tales p 10)
 Babylon in all its desolation is a sight no so awful/As that of the human mind in ruins.

-Scrope Berdmore Davies
 There is and elasticity in the human mind, capable of bearing much, but which will not show itself, until a certain weight of affliction be put upon it; its powers may be compared to those vehicles whose springs are so contrived that they get on smoothly enough when loaded, but jolt confoundedly when they have nothing to bear.

-Charles Caleb Colton
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Carrying-Black-Bag-Neurologists-Bedside/dp/0896729540/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471270812&sr=1-1&keywords=carrying+the+black+bag


       

Friday, August 12, 2016

The Ninth Daughter by Barbara Hamilton


For those who have enjoyed Sleepy Hollow and the AMC show Turn: Washington Spies, or just plain love a good mystery, this book is for you.  It is set in 1773, right before the Boston Tea Party.  Abigail Adams, wife of Sons of Liberty member and future President John Adams, goes to visit her friend, Rebecca Malvern only to stumble upon a rich woman cut up to death on her floor, with Rebecca no where in sight.  Careful not to disturb evidence, as John has taught her, she hunts around the house not only for clues but for Sons of Liberty work and sedition tracts that must not be seen by the Watch, who would convict Rebecca of treason when she is found.

Rebecca left her mean husband eighteen months ago after he repeatedly tried to lock her up and believed the lies his two children said about her abuse of them and her "papist" beliefs, even though she converted, which lost her her family.  She found a small place to stay where she did sewing and such for rent, while taking on teaching students and writing out a highly religious preacher from Essex County's sermons to be printed by Orion Hazlitt who also prints the Sons of Liberty tracts and takes care of his senile old mother with the help of a slow servant girl named Damnation.  Orion is in love with Rebecca, but both know that nothing will ever come of it because of his mother and the fact that she is still married, even though there are people in town who consider her a slut for living away from her husband.

After Abigail discovers the body, she calls Sam Adams and Paul Revere and they come over and search for a missing leger that has the list of all of their names in it and their aliases, which would cause them to be possibly hung for treason.  They destroy the crime scene in the process of cleaning it up.  Abigail goes to Mr. Malvern to see if he knows anything, but while angry as usual, he is as shocked as she and wants to find his wife.  When Abigail gets home, Lieutenant Coldstone and Sergeant Muldoon of the Crown, is there ready to arrest John for killing the woman because Rebecca was a legal client of his, and they believe, his mistress.  Abigail convinces them to let him go on a bond of $30.

Perdita Pentyre, wife of a tea merchant and mistress of a high ranking officer in the military and having possibly another secret lover, is the dead woman.  No one can find any evidence that Rebecca knew this woman.  Soon, Coldstone tells Abigail of the similar murders of two other women, one a whore, that no one bothered to look into, and the other a hair dresser who it turns out also worked as a healer.  He believes that the same person killed all three women.  Oddly enough there is over a year gap between the last victim and the current victim.  When Abigail goes to investigate the hair dresser's murder by talking to her neighbors, she discovered that men from the tavern would sometimes pound on her door at night when they were disappointed at not be successful at getting a whore at the bar.  One of these men, who also called her a witch, and is a deacon in the church, is a member of the Sons of Liberty.  He is currently in court over a land dispute with a relation of his Pentyre, whose wife was just murdered.  But he isn't the only one who wants that land.

With the help of Coldstone and Muldoon, Abigail goes out to hunt for Rebecca.  The last twenty to forty pages just flew by as Muldoon and Abigail go out alone to go rescue Rebecca, hoping that the messages she sent to her husband and the Sons of Liberty got to them and that help will arrive to save them too.  This was a fascinating look into the life of a colonial woman, who, while trying to prove her husband's innocence, must also spend time taking care of her children and the house, even though she does have one servant girl, whom she feels constantly guilty over for leaving so much work to do.  There's one point in the book where Abigail silently apologizes to Rebecca for not looking for her that day because the laundry is way overdue and must be done.  You also feel sorry for Abigail who must endure drinking nasty coffee when she'd rather be drinking tea, due to the tax.  I really loved this book, a first in a new series by the author of the Benjamin January books by Barbara Hambly, which are set during the time before the Civil War in New Orleans and feature freedman doctor Benjamin January who solves mysteries, are just as good.  I'm grabbing the next Abigail Adams mystery the next time I go to the library.

Quote:


Well, we have it on the authority of Scripture that the Lord shall avenge the stripes of the righteous, and uphold the children against those who slander them…Though sometimes I wish Scripture were a little more specific about when, exactly, these events will take place.
---Barbara Hamilton (The Ninth Daughter p 95)

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Ninth-Daughter-Abigail-Adams-Mystery/dp/0425244636/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1471009290&sr=1-1&keywords=the+ninth+daughter

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Morgue: A Life in Death by Dr. Vincent Di Maio and Ron Franscell


I had been eagerly looking forward to reading this book. So imagine my disappointment to be so disgusted with this man's ego that it made it impossible to read this book.  One wonders if Anthony E. Zuiker caught a stock speech by Di Maio because some of the things he says in this book sound like they could have come right out of Grissom's mouth. Instead of "The evidence never lies" catchphrase that Grissom uses, Di Maio says, "Forensic evidence is the bedrock of justice. It doesn't change it's story or misremember what it saw...It tells us honestly and candidly what we need to know, even when we want it to say something else. We only have the wisdom to be able to see it and to interpret it honestly."   Basically the same thing in fewer words.  While Di Maio's expertise is in gunshot wounds and Grissom's is bugs, the main difference between the two men is that Grissom knows his place in the universe and has no need to shout it aloud, while Di Maio does.  You know of Grissom's expertise only because others tell you. Di Maio has the built the "nation's most respected forensic medical facility" and has performed more that "9,000 autopsies and examined over 25,000 deaths and continued to consult in unexplained or questionable death cases all over the world."   See how he yells from the top of his lungs about how great he is.

The book's first chapter, once you wade through his ego and what at first, feels like a perceived prejudice in the case, you hit the first case he examines which is one he testified at the Trayvon Martin murder trial where Geroge Zimmerman was accused of murder. And if you can hang in there you will eventually get to the actual science where he excels at explaining in clear language. As he says the politics of the case may have been complicated but the science was quite simple.  Those last moments are easy to dissect and determine scientifically. What was going through the two men's minds we may never know. He supposes that one white man profiled a black man who profiled a white man and two men who were both afraid acted on that fear and someone ended up dead as a result.  Which says a lot about both sides of race relations in this country.

The second chapter is where I gave up as it goes into his personal history.  His father was a pathologist and his mother had a degree in law but never officially practiced.  On his mother's side, with the exception of one black sheep, they have all been doctors going back to the 1600s. Both of his parents are first generation Italian-Americans.  He knew when he was a baby that he wanted to be a doctor. Give me a freaking break.  I thought about just skipping the chapter and trying to read another case but then I remembered how hard it was to read that first case.  He took forever to get to the actual science as he was so busy thinking so highly of himself.  This guy is a pompous jerk and is not worth my time.

In case you're curious some of the other cases he covers include The West Memphis Boys, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Vincent Van Gogh.   

Link to Amazon:https://www.amazon.com/Morgue-Life-Death-Vincent-DiMaio/dp/1250067146/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470836009&sr=1-1&keywords=morgue+by+vincent+dimaio

Monday, August 8, 2016

Bones and All by Camille DeAngelis


Maren Yearly is a very unique sixteen-year-old in that she sometimes cannot help but eat people bones and all. This began when she was a baby and her mother came home to find the babysitter reduced to a pile of bones and Maren with a bloody face and the hammer bone of the ear in her mouth.  Her mother immediately pulls up stakes and they move, which will be a recurring theme in her childhood after she later devours a boy at summer camp when she was eight when they met secretly to go camping outside together.  As soon as a boy shows an interest in her and gets her alone she can't help herself and ends up eating them even when that's the last thing in the world she wants to do, not just to them, but also to her mom who suffers from not being able to form friendships or move up in a company.  She knows nothing about her father.

On her sixteenth birthday, her mother gives her a great gift of a book and gift card and takes her out to eat at a nice restaurant then to see the movie Titanic.  When Maren wakes up in the morning, her mother has pulled a disappearing act without her, leaving enough money for her to take a bus to find her father and her birth certificate with his name on it. Instead of going to her father in Wyoming, however, Maren heads to her mother's parents place, whom she has never met, to try to make amends with her mom, in Pennslyvania. Once there, she sees through the kitchen window her mother crying in her grandmother's arms and realizes what a burden she has been to her mother and leaves.

Looking for something to eat, she goes to a grocery store downtown and meets an elderly woman, Mrs. Harmon who needs some help with her shopping and Maren is more than happy to help her as she is so nice to her.  When Mrs. Harmon asks her to come in and have breakfast with her once she helps her put away her groceries, she is glad to have not just the home cooked meal, but the company.  Mrs. Harmon even promises to teach her to knit later after they have lunch which will include the carrot cake she had made the previous day and was still sitting on the table.  Mrs. Harmon tells her she needs to take a nap and if Maren is tired too she can go to sleep in the spare room or Oom, as she calls it after the C.S. Lewis books since it too good to be a spare room.  When she awakes, Mrs. Harmon has died in her sleep and joined her husband with whom she had been married a long time too.  Maren goes back to sleep only to wake up to an older man she had seen about town earlier, eating Mrs. Harmon.

Once he finishes he introduces himself as Sullivan or "Sully".  And he too is an eater only he can sense when they are about to die and eat them only then.  After eating a "hobo meal" out of Mrs. Harmon's kitchen, he pulls out his long rope of hair and adds Mrs. Harmon's to it.  Sully's father had been a rope maker, which is where he learned the skill. He has been on his own since he was fourteen.  His grandfather taught him all he needed to know about surviving out in the woods.  He tells her it's best not to trust your own kind, but that he's different since he only eats the dead and that he'd welcome her company. She tells him, against his advice, that she is going to find her father because she has a romantic notion of her father teaching her all she needs to know about surviving this life.

She's not too smart when she buys a ticket to St. Louis impatient to get going, even though that means going southwest.  When she gets there she only has fifteen dollars left.  She tries hitching a ride and a girl ditches her at a Walmart in Iowa where she begins to contemplate shoplifting food.  A crazy drunk guy comes in and a tall blonde guy seems to steer him away from the other customers since the employees aren't doing anything. When Maren locks eyes with him she feels a jolt and has an idea that he may be an eater.  After stealing some food and going outside, she is followed by a Walmart employee who gets too close and she ends up eating him in his car.  The blonde guy, Lee, is there waiting for her with the drunk guy's truck keys so they can make a fast getaway.

Lee has a mother who doesn't care and dates abusive men. He also has a younger sister whom he is protecting that he still goes back to Virginia to visit and give driving lessons too.  The only people Lee eats are those who seem to deserve it.  He's nineteen and teaches Maren how to drive and helps her to find her father.  He's suspicious of Sully who is equally suspicious of Lee.  Who is Maren to trust when she has just met both of these people in the space of a week?  And will her father be even a little bit of what she hopes? What kind of future can a girl like Maren have, anyway?  This bizarre book really captures your attention and makes you feel for all the oddball girls and boys out there who never seem to find their place.     

Quotes:
 I don’t know if you can read between the lines when there’s only one sentence, but I could read all the things she hadn’t said clearly enough.

-Camille DeAngelis (Bones and All p 6)
 I couldn’t sleep in an empty apartment. I couldn’t cry either, because she hadn’t left me anything to cry over. If she loved it, she took it with her.

-Camilla DeAngelis (Bones and All p 7)
 We outcasts had a way of organizing ourselves into concentric circles, so kids like Stuart could feel bad for someone like me on the very outer fringe and feel relieved that they weren’t on it.

-Camilla DeAngelis (Bones and All p 38)
 Eventually I realized something. Whenever you tell yourself, This time will be different, it’s as good as a promise that it’ll turn out the same as it always has.

-Camilla DeAngelis (Bones and All p 39)
 I understood now why the smell of laundry soap was so comforting: Things couldn’t be too hopeless if somebody was still bothering to wash the sheets.

-Camilla DeAngelis (Bones p 62)
 Women don’t give me so many reasons to hate them. They’re more honest. Not always, but most of the time.

-Camilla DeAngelis (Bones and All p 173)
Link to Amazon:  https://images-na.ssl-images-amazon.com/images/I/51-poK9DrFL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny


The small town of Three Pines, in Quebec, was founded by Loyalist who didn't want to fight in the Revolution.  You basically had to get lost to find the place.  It's made up of a mixture of people who have all been searching for something, perhaps peace, and found it in Three Pines.  But not right now.  On Sunday of Labor Day Weekend, a hermit's bludgeoned body is found on the floor of the bistro owned by the delightful gay couple Gabri and Olivier and the used book store owner, Myrna.  The man was not killed there but put there, perhaps to hurt Gabri and Olivier's business or for personal reasons.

When asked why no one reported a stranger around the townspeople looked at the Inspector Beauvoir and ask who? They don't have "a police force, no traffic lights, no sidewalks, no mayor.  The volunteer fire department was run by that demented old poet Ruth Zardo, and most would rather perish in the flames than call her".  But as Clara, the local artist whose work is now being discovered (and her own husband, already a known artist is dealing with her possible new fame) says "Every Quebec village has a vocation...Some make cheese, some wine, some pots.  We produce bodies."

Olivier is keeping secrets from the police.  He knew the hermit.  He used to go and visit with him and have storytelling and the hermit would always give him something for the groceries Olivier would bring him.  But Olivier isn't the only one keeping secrets.  The Old cursed Hadley House, now bought by Marc and Dominique Gilbert, to be a spa and hotel, will affect the B and B and the bistro Gabri and Olivier own and vice versa.  The two have been fighting heavily.  Also, Marc's supposedly dead and saintly father, Vincent, has reappeared at the same time as the body and has been seen lurking in the woods.  He claims he is there to help his son, but does he have some other purpose.

There's also the fact that the hermit is discovered to be from Czechoslovakia; probably an immigrant after the fall of the Soviet Union.  Out in the woods of Three Pines there is a thriving Czech population who claim not to know the man, but was he someone who perhaps stole valuables from them promising to sell them when he got to Canada and give them the money, but didn't?  The last one to lock up the bistro was Havoc, one of the Czech's who lived in the area. He might have discovered the hermit by following Olivier one night.

I really recommend you read at least one of the other books in the series to get a feel for the characters of the town (Still Life, A Fatal Grace, or The Cruelest Month).  I can't say much more about the book without giving away the ending, except to say it's her best book yet and I can't wait to read the next one.

Quotes


If anyone could come back from the dead to screw you up, it’d be her [your mother].
--Louise Penny (The Brutal Telling p 6)


I decided since I turned fifty I needed to get into shape…or at least, into a different shape.  I’m aiming for pear rather than apple…Though I suspect my nature is to be the whole orchard.
-- Louise Penny (The Brutal Telling p 19)


He’d heard a judge say the most humane way to execute a prisoner was to tell him he was free.  Then kill him.
--Louise Penny (The Brutal Telling p 23)


But, of course, as irony would have it, it was the ones who locked and alarmed who were killed.  In Beauvoir’s experience Darwin was way wrong.  The Fittest didn’t survive.  They were killed by the idiocy of their neighbors, who continued to bumble along oblivious.
-- Louise Penny (The Brutal Telling p 27)
 
Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Brutal-Telling-Chief-Inspector-Gamache/dp/1250109116/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470229151&sr=1-1&keywords=the+brutal+telling+by+louise+penny

 
 
 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini


By the author of the many quilting mysteries series and Mrs. Lincoln and Her Seamstress comes a very unique look into the life of a woman that, while much is written about her, including her own autobiography, many people do not really know who she is.  While very little is known about her maid and slave Jule, Chiaverini was forced to create as correct a story-line for her as possible.

This book opens with Julia Dent of Missouri, the daughter of a slave owning planter, meets Lieutenant Grant who is soon off to fight in the Mexican American War.  When he first asks for her hand in marriage, she is so shocked that she says no and watches as he goes back to Ohio to see his folks before coming south again to go fight.  She immediately regrets her decision.  While Grant graduated from West Point at the bottom of his class and earned quite a few demerits, he excelled at math and horsemanship, something they both shared.  He hoped to get a job teaching math after the war.  Julia, an insecure woman who was born with a lazy eye that causes her to get headaches if she reads or does embroidery.  She depends on Jule to be her eyes for things that are far away to describe them for her.  The two are the same age and grew up together calling themselves ginger and cream. 

Jule is in love with the stable master, Gabriel who has a magnificent voice and wants to be a preacher as soon as he can get his freedom.  Jule keeps turning his offer of marriage to him down, because she knows that when Grant (who finally gets permission from Julia's father to marry her) returns from the war, that Julia will take her away from Missouri.  But when Grant returns, he is forced to stay in the army for another ten years, traveling from place to place in the North, where it would look bad for Julia to have a slave with her, so Jule goes ahead and marries Gabriel.

Julia and Grant would have four children, Fred, Ulysses, Nellie, and Jesse.  Grant would be forced out of the army on the false rumors of him being a drunkard who could not control those under his command.  In truth, Grant suffered horrible migraines and there were always those who just wanted him to fail.  Grant's comes from a family of abolitionists who take a while getting used to Julia. After leaving the army, Grant tries his hand at farming the land Julia's father gave them as a wedding present, but fails.  He goes into business with another man in Ohio and that also fails.  Just as he starts working for his father, the Civil War breaks out and he is sent to train men.

The book goes on to describe the times that Julia and on occasion, one or more of her children with her, to be with Grant at his encampment.  She spends the rest of the time between her parents house and Grant's parents house.  She gets to witness the fall of Vicksburg, as well as many other battles.  Grant's sobriety rumors start up again, but he keeps winning battles, and Lincoln famously says "send a barrel of whatever Grant is drinking to my other Generals".  The North goes through many heads of the army, but after Vicksburg, Lincoln realizes that Grant is just the man to win the war for him and Sherman is left to take care of the Western front while Grant faces Lee on the  East and directs all the troops. 

Grant is magnanimous when he accepts defeat from Lee at Appomattox and offers a good deal: the soldiers will be pardoned, will have to put down their guns, will get to keep their horses and land.  Grant knows that Lincoln is the man who will really help the nation heal, as he is not out to punish the South.  That famous night at Ford's Theater, when Lincoln was shot, the Grants had received an invitation to go, but Julia, who all her life has had visions that tend to come through, begged him not to go and to leave Washington City at once, because it was not safe.  Later, it turns out, Grant's name was on the list of those who were to be killed, but the killer could not get to him.

Sadly, this book is scant on Grant's presidency.  Grant's presidency was the most corrupt in American history.  He was frequently taken advantage of and quite frankly, was more a soldier than a president.  After retiring, he found out that he has lost all his money, a quarter of a million dollars, to bad investments.  He has to borrow money, then sells everything he can to pay it back.  Salvation comes when he is asked to write some articles for the newspaper, who suggest that he write his memoirs.  While slowly dying from mouth cancer, he determinedly sets out to do that in order that his family might be financially secure when he is gone. 

Jule, meanwhile, runs away from Julia during the war when they are in Cincinnati.  Gabriel had been sold twice and was now somewhere in Texas, and though Jule tries to find him, is unable to do so, that's why she decides to run.  An abolitionist soldier told her where to go if she could escape and she goes to a church where they help her set up a life in Washington City as a beautician, who also sells lotions and beauty products.  While she becomes very successful, she is always looking over her shoulder for Julia who comes to Washington City sometimes.  Julia is an odd woman, perhaps because she is Southern, and Southerners, quite often are a little off.  She is pro-Union, but also pro-slavery.  She believes the slaves would not know what to do with themselves if left to their own devises.  That they would starve to death.  She sees her family as kind.  One that treats them well, feeds them, clothes them, and provides them a place to live.  Over time, Julia changes, and in her later years makes friends with one of the most surprising women of her time. 

This book is fabulous.  I've never known anything about Grant's wife, much less that she was a slave holder from the South, who marries abolitionist, Ulysses Grant.  I also knew very little about Grant, except a few of his exploits from the battle.  This book paints him as a very understanding, caring, giving, modest, and gracious man.  Julia was a brave woman, who was Grant's equal, who would learn to see the world in a different light.  She was often not wanted no matter if she was in the South or the North, because of her heritage and her marriage.  She would turn the White House, in shambles, back to its former glory, and be quite the hostess.  Jule is also an amazing woman for having the strength to run away in dangerous times and as a woman, to make a very nice living for herself.  This is a novel truly worthy of your time.

Link to Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Mrs-Grant-Madame-Jennifer-Chiaverini/dp/0525954295/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1470054217&sr=1-1&keywords=mrs.+grant+and+madame+jule+by+jennifer+chiaverini