Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Protocol Zero by James Abel

Published in 2015, I found this in a free bin at the local library last year.  Read it with fascination in March-April.  Never have read anything else by this author.  This paperback of uncorrected proof for limited distribution is 356 pages.  It is a different intrigue, horrifying at times with the main character,  USMarine doctor and bioterrorism expert, Colonel Joe Rush.  Based in Arctic Alaska, Barrow and the northern slope environmental concerns, natives in conflict with  the  visiting scientists and an apocalyptic plague kept me turning the pages.  Opening sentences:  "The police chief's emergency call had to bounce off three satellites to reach me.  The first --  over Russia-- was snapping photos of their paratroops by the North Pole, on maneuvers.  The second--over Arctic Canada-- watched a US attack submarine testing weapons, surfacing in ice.  The last one was directly overhead above northern Alaska.  North Slope Police Chief Merlin Toovik's voice came in loud and clear from nine miles away.  " I need help, Colonel"  I stood, breath frosting at the end of North america on a twenty foot high grass bluff overlooking the Arctic Ocean, a Mossberg shotgun over my back, in case polar bears showed up.  Fire in the air, they usually turn away."   4**** only because  some of the more technical terms and bloodiness were  frustrating to me.  But I never guessed what was really going on and  felt this would be an outstanding movie.  

By Elizabeth George A Great Deliverance

Another paperback, first published in 1988, but  one I did not read until March 2017, 413 pages large print.  Another one I hated to put down. With the same characters of  Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley and Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers, this mystery winds through the Keldale countryside, the old Keldale Abbey where in the past Yorkshire villagers had hidden to escape Cromwell's ravages.  There is a legend about the crying baby that will be repeated by locals.  This mystery is a bit different and  touches on years of child abuse.  It is sickening at times, but  nonetheless a great read. 5*****

The author's website contains a far superior  synopsis to the book than I could manage to write.  "A baby's cry echoes on lonely nights through alley in Yorkshire. Three hundred 

By Elizabeth George Deception on His Mind

An old one published in 1997,  1998 but just read in January this
 paperback, 716 pages.  First sentences:  "To Ian Armstrong, life had begun its current downward slide the moment he'd been made redundant.  He'd known when he'd been offered the job that it was only a temporary appointment.  "
First Page

Another great read by the author.  In this Sgt. Barbara Havers is on leave, but manages to engage herself in the trials of her Pakistani neighbor and his young daughter,  using the guise of vacation.  Landing smack into the  Pakistani  issues in a developing resort community, Sgt. Havers  delves into the  concerns using her friendship with Inspector  Emily Barlow to work on the investigation of a murder. The characters range from activist Pakistani's,  local long time residents of the town, craftsmen and jewelry makers, and more.  I read this in January.  5 *****

The following is copied from the author's website:

Balford-le-Nez is dying seatown on the coast of Essex. But when a member of the town's small but growing Asian community is found dead near its beach, the sleepy town ignites with unrest. Intrigued by the involvement of her London neighbor-Taymullah Azhar-in what appears to be a potential racial conflagration, Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers takes off for the town of Balford-le-Nez and discovers at the head of the investigation Detective Chief Inspector Emily Barlow, an officer whom Havers has long known.

During the course of the investigation, Havers discovers the social differences between the English and Pakistani communities in England, and she experiences first hand the racial divide that separates people whose cultures are like polar extremes.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sisi by Katryn Unterreiner

In Vienna last year I toured among other places, the  stunning Schonbrunn Palace, hope of the Hapsburgs in Vienna and there  saw and hear a lot of Sisi, or Empress Elizabeth,  she was a recluse of sorts and died young.  She was born in Munich in 1837  and died in 1898.  Her designation was Empress of Hungary.  I picked up this small book about her.  She was a woman quite ahead of her time but still rather odd.  She was avid about physical exercise and  remaining trim.  Yest she had a very restless spirit and often was away from her husband and children. Someday I would love to read a real saga about the Hapsburg family.  This is more of a booklet at only 125 pages.  Many interesting pictures.  The author is a famed  Austrian Historian and referred to movies popular in Europe about Sisi's life, but I have never  seen nor heard of those here in the US.  I did  buy replica pins and earrings of the Hapsburg stars made famous by Sisi,  locals claim she often gave these to people.  Of course mine are only Swarovski crystal while the originals were diamonds. 
Picture and first page

The booklet was an interesting read and gives just a glimpse into her life and the lifestyle.  I passed it along to a friend whom I met on the trip.  I gave it 4 **** stars.

Deborah, Mother of Israel by Marlene Lake

Purchased in 2011 from a local writing group where the author, Marlene Lake attended.  This book has been lingering on my shelf so finally read it, a tale  of Deborah,  Deborah is mentioned as a prophetess in the Bible, Old Testament, Judges, Chapters 4 and 5.  At only  275 pages it is an ok read, but I will be sending this one off to a friend.  There is a lot more to the Deborah tale in this book than what I had known from the Bible because the author did extensive research.  The family names are of interest.  

However only 275 pages it is  a slow read.  I give it  3 ***(stars,  and while the writing is as good as can be expected, and the names and places are interesting, this will likely be more appreciated by students of the Bible than the average reader.  The author includes a listing in the front of all the major characters which I found helpful. The cover is lovely almost mystical.   
Back cover
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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Gardenias by Faith Sullivan

Every so often I want to read fluff, just a good story, and because I had never read any other works by Faith Sullivan when this popped up at a book sale for $1 how could I resist.  It has been sitting and so in August I started to read it, published in 2005 originally.  It was a fast read, thru 376 pages of a nice size paperback published by Milkweed Productions. . Set in 1942, World War II on the home front through the eyes of Lark, a 9 year old  Minnesota girl who is moved from her roots when her mother Arlene Erhardt and her Aunt Betty decide to leave for California  for jobs in the defense industry.  Lark goes thru many changes in CA and enters adolescence seeing more about her mother  than a 9 year old needs to know. 

The novel is named for the scrawny gardenia bush  planted outside the project housing the women find in San Diego.  Lark tends to it along with her chores as her mother and aunt work and she is left on her own except for school and the local neighbors in the project.  We  meet several intriguing characters all  of whom add to this story, Jack and Fanny Dugan, Beau Eldridge, Mr. Trustworthy the owner of the second hand store where they shop to furnish their place and Lark acquires her painting, Lou the man who does hauling from the thrift store for them and his son Woodrow,   

 Arlene works in the office of the defense plant and Betty goes into retail.   Both have left husbands behind in MN and for a time Arlene poses as a widow while Betty acknowledges separation from Stanley.  I miss my late friend Sandy, now because I would have mailed this book to her, it strangely  has the Erhardt last name, one of the husband's Sandy's mother married.  Lark has but one friend,  Shirley Olson, a ragtag hardened  girl from Wyoming, who epitomizes a saying of my Grandma's, "Don't complain because no matter how bad off you are someone is always worse.." 

 Lark develops wisdom, cynicism and a certain hardness beyond her years,  and she begins to write short tales.  Pg. 116, she describes what it means to be 10 years old, "Age ten meant swimming (or drowning) between two shores of dependency and autonomy.  Grown ups began to shove you away from the near shore, expecting you to maneuver for yourself out there in the deep water of 12, 13, and 14, expecting you to solve your own problems, live with your own fears, conquer your own loneliness.  Weren't they sorry to be saying good-bye to you?"  and on page 118, "..but that was age 10 for you, too old to be cute, too young to be clever."  How sad, I reflected.  I think back to my childhood and I was such a little girl still at that age. 

Page202, Aunt Betty shares with Lark, "If you don't kill yourself right away when something terrible happens--like Baby Marjorie's being dead and Stanley leaving--if you go on living, you become a different person.  You're always becoming a different person."  

Page 344, " Human mutability was frightening.  Just when you thought you knew someone, they became someone else.  "People don't change,"  I'd heard someone say.  But people did change.  I regarded Mama, sitting opposite me and Miss Eldridge and Uncle Stanley.", 

I had a clipping from the St Paul Pioneer Press about Faith Sullivan written by MaryAnn Grossman  from September 13, 2015 so was curious about her books.  I had not heard of her although it seems Minnesota is her home base and she is quite a popular women's author.

I will definitely read more by Faith Sullivan.  From the opening page where she quotes Jonis Agee, Sweet Eyes" We all need the waters of the Mercy River, Though they don't run deep, there's usually enough, just enough, for the extravagance of our lives."  

Perhaps my favorite line in the book is on page 352, "There was a strange kind of comfort in misunderstandings and differences that were old enough to have lost their teeth."  

5 stars for this well written piece of  fluff.  *****

Monday, August 29, 2016

2 More by David McCullough an older one, 1776 and the newest, The Wright Brothers

2004 photo of David McCullough
I have finished two more by a favorite author,  1776,  published in 2005 but one which I  had not yet read and his newest,  The Wright Brothers, published in 2015.  As the title suggests, 1776 is  about that era of this country's history and those who served fighting for our freedom with George Washington.  It does have massive insight into the darkest hours of that war and the hearts of the men who valiantly proceeded against all odds.   I found it one of the least interesting books by McCullough until I was halfway  into it, the staging for the  battles and military strategies did not interest me as much as the personalities .  It is interesting to read about  the attitudes of the war for our independence and to reflect on today's similarities. 

Our Army was indeed a rag tag collection of volunteers from all walks of lives, teachers, shoe makers, farmers, no-accounts, shop keepers and every shape, size, and age, some "mere boys turned into soldiers." Pgs 32-33, The American militia in reality "looked more like farmers in from the fields than soldiers.  That so many were filthy, dirty was perfectly
understandable, as so many, when not drilling, spent their days digging trenches, hauling rock and throwing up great mounds of earth for defense.  ...It was dirty hard labor and there was little chance or the means ever to bathe or enjoy such luxury as a change of clothes.  Few of the men had what would pass for a uniform.  ..Not only were most men unwashed, and often unshaven, they were clad in a bewildering variety of this and that, largely whatever they had been able to throw together before they trudged off to war.  They wore heavy homespun cloth coats and shirts, often in tatters...The arms they bore were as various as their costumes, mainly muskets,"  A far different picture than the tricorner hats and breeches worn by strutting men  playing fife and drum that we have seen in musicals and movies.  There are many fine photographs of portraits again documenting the massive research efforts.

 I was amused to learn of one of George Washington's favorite quotes from Cato, by the English author Joseph Addison, the most popular play of that time.  One line, he frequently referenced as commander in chief, facing head on the realities of the situation, Pg.47, "'Tis not in mortals to command success, but we'll do more, Sempronius, we'll deserve it."   

I was struck by  page 226, a lesson from history that we seem to have fully ignored or declared no longer fitting to our times,is that George Washington fully realized that a full time Army was a necessity that a part time Army does not work.  Yet, today that seems to be what politicians and  Americans demand.  "..war is no work of a day, he warned and must be carried on systematically.  ..Good officers were mandatory and the only means to obtain good officers was to establish the army on a permanent footing.  There must be an end to short term enlistments.  Officers must be better paid, better trained.  Soldiers must be offered a good bounty, adequate clothing and blankets, plus the promise of free land."  

1776 also covers the  British and their attitudes, particularly British commander William Howe.   The narrative begins in London , October 26, 1775 when King George goes to Parliament to gain consent to crush the American resistance.  I learned lots of tidbits seldom  reported in history thanks to the author's massive research  in both American and British archives. Pg 291, quote written a century later by Sir George Otto Trevelyan, in a classic study of the American Revolution, "It may be doubted whether so small a number of men ever employed so short a space of time with greater and more lasting effects upon the history of the world."" I did not realize this book was written as a companion to McCullough's masterpiece biography about John Adams.  It is 294 pages of narrative, followed by acknowledgements and copious reference notes. I read this book in October and November 2015, but  just now am posting it here, as you know I have been a negligent blogger. It was an overall 3 star rating, average, middle  to the 5 stars I use, 5 being the best. ***

June and July I read The Wright Brothers, 262 pages, followed by extensive reference notes and including many photographs and the most famous of the Kitty Hawk in flight. .  It is as the title  reveals the story of Orville and Wilbur Wright, two brothers, bicycle mechanics from Dayton Ohio who founded American and indeed world wide aviation after a wintry day in 1903 on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  I savored this book, the history of aviation, the character study of the brothers and their sister, Katherine, their father Bishop Wright. One other brother, Lorin, the oldest lost patience with Wilbur in his early years,". "What does Will do" he wrote Katherine from Kansas where he had gone to seek his fortune.  "He ought to be doing something, is he still cook and chambermaid.?". 

There is fascinating detail about their ability, courage, intellect, curiosity and  true grit, determination.  Their absolute devotion to flying was the exclusion of any other aspects of life, the brothers would remain life long bachelors.  I did not know that after their successes, the French government  was the first to want to invest in flilght,  building on their success with gliders in France.  The US government  was a bit disdainful if not skeptical of the use of aviatn in the future.  The first chapter of this book is aptly titled, "Beginnings."  and the  first lines quote Wilbur Wright, "If I were giving a young man advice as to how he might succeed in life, I would say to him, pick out a good father and mother and begin life in Ohio."   It begins in 1909 when Wilbur is 42 and Orville 38 years old but goes back into the family history and the effect of the 1884 railroad and National Cash Register Company in the development of the Dayton area. 

There is a great deal of information about wind and velocities (Pg. 40),  equilibrium (pg.38) that I found educating and fascinating scientific reading. ( Pg. 48 As time would show, caution and close attention to all advance preparations were to be the rule for the brothers.  They would take risks when necessary, but they were no daredevils out to perform stunts and the never would be."  Pg. 49, "Wind would be all important and contrary to the old Irish wish--'May the wind be ever at your back'--a good wind had to be head on.  As would be said, for the Wrights the winds were never the enemy."  Chapter 4, titled, Unyielding Resolve, "Pg 65, "We had to go ahead and discover everything ourselves." Orville Wright.  Pg. 70 "The work was unlike anything the brothers had ever undertaken and the most demanding of their time and powers of concentration.  They were often at it past midnight.   As said later in the Aeronautical Journal fo the Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, "Never in the history of the world had men studied the problem with such scientific skill nor with such undaunted courage."   

 The one colleague the brothers  would have and would depend on was Charlie Taylor, a man they hired to keep their bicycle shop going while they were in North Carolina.  It was not easy going for the brothers, when they began to solicit  the manufacture of a light engine for flight  from American automobile engine  manufacturers, only one responded and that with a far too heavy motor, so  the brothers with no experience building engines had more work to do themselves. Pg 86, In time to come the brothers would b widely portrayed as a couple of clever, hometown bicycle mechanics who manged to succeed where so many others had failed because of their good old fashioned American knack for solving seemingly impossible mechanical problems.  This was true only in part."   Pgs 86 and 87 discuss Charlie Taylor's contribution early on, although distrusted by Katherine who disliked his know it all attitude, His only prior experience with a gas engine had been to try to fix one in an auto a few years previously. " But that January working in the back shop with the same metal lathe and drill press used for building bicycles, he went to work and 6 weeks later had it finished."  I was intrigued to learn  he built the engine block from cast aluminum provided b "the up and coing Aluminum Company of America, based in Pittsburgh."  The Alcoa company was a major  employer in my hometown in PA.

Pg 236, "A machine was like a horse, Wilbur said, 'If it's new you have to get used to it before it will do just as you want it to.  You have to learn its peculiarities."

This is another 5 star read by David McCullough, I found it engrossing. *****

Often I cut reviews from other sources or copy links.  I thought it worth sharing this one on The Wright Brothers here by Tom Beer in Newsday , if the link does not work I have scanned the article and will attach it below as well.