Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews

By now I should know if I see "New York Times Best Seller" as the big draw card for a book that the book is not likely to be of interest to me, but this was a local  book club selection and one I'd not read.  It's also one sappy sentimental tale, that most of the women loved, but one I could have done without. Paperback, published 2010 and first in 2005 by Thomas Nelson, Inc, 239 pages and a Reader's Guide.  The author claims it is a true story with perhaps some embellishment.  It was a very fast read for me, started out better but kept going on and on; as I said, sappy....one of these books overloaded with sentimentality and pages upon pages about forgiveness..triteness that has been written every where before..just what some women like to read, but not me.  I thought I might learn a bit about WWII and the German submarines off the Atlantic coast and the Gulf Shores of  potential interest to me because of the disappearance of my father and his B-24 plane and crew in June 1944 and speculation to this day about a German U boat sinking it.  So there was a bit of history.  We have traveled to this area, set primarily in Foley, Alabama and those gulf shores so I was familiar with the setting.  Still, I  will be passing this book along.  Apparently this is a well liked author, but then so are many who specialize in the quick reading low information style.

It is the tale of  the people, Helen a bereft young WWII widow who moves to Alabama to care for her aunt, her only relative, Helen is a case study of hard luck; other characters,  Billy and Margaret Gilbert who own the local cafe and  hire Helen after  her aunt passes, of their son, Davey autistic or developmentally disabled, the local constable Wan and Josef Newman, the  German sailor whom Helen finds on the beach.  According to the author, this book was his greatest career disappointment  and his favorite.  It was first a manuscript, "Island of Saints"  and "through issues of bad timing, ..little previous success and zero publicity the book was quickly forgotten."   I give it a 2 or 3 **---*** although the book club members liked it.  I prefer more depth in reading so it just might be suitable for those interested in a quick non absorbing read.

World Without End by Ken Follett

This sequel to "Pillars of the Earth" is the second of the trilogy to this sensational historical fictional saga by this masterful  story teller and researcher..I read it in less than a month, all 1014 small print pages in this massive paperback tome published by the New American Library.   First published in 2007 in a Dutton edition, it is a delight for any historical fiction reader continuing the  tale of Kingsbridge Priory early England, reaching across the channel into France and as far as Florence Italy.  How Follett weaves all the many characters through the novel while covering suspense, tragedy, triumph, the breadth of human emotions, vice and character traits all the better to humanize the people is a testament to the gift of this author and his intense research.  

From the back cover, "Two centuries after the townspeople of Kingsbridge finished building their exquisite Gothic cathedral, four children slip into the forest and witness a killing...an event that will braid their lives together by ambition, love, greed, and revenge."   It begins December 1, 1327,  page 1, "Gwenda was eight years old, but she was not afraid of the dark.  When she opened her eyes she could see nothing, but that was not what scared her.  She knew where she was.  She was lying on the floor in a bed of straw at Kingsbridge Priory in the long stone building they called the hospital.  Her mother lay next to her.....When the dawn broke it would be All Hallows, a Sunday this year and therefore an especially holy day..." 

Among so much history of the English and French wars, the crusades, the plague, the church with it's plethora of sometimes evil leaders, I  refreshed myself and learned new history either forgotten by me or not known.  I had always believed that our current jury system was based on Old English Law,  the old common law..but learned on page 210 that indeed the concept of 12 men jurors  (and they were all men then) stretched back to Normandy, France.  

It would not be essential to have read the first novel, Pillars to appreciate this tale, but it would give a sense of familiarity and continuity to have done so and I am glad that I did.  I now look forward to reading the 3rd of this saga.   It is a book into which the reader can be truly drawn, enfolded and engrossed. Multiple characters, multiple plots and life which is not always triumphant jump off the pages.  I need say no more, Follett is famous for his intrigue.

   I give this a 5 *****.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Eagan

My good friend, Carlie, sent this book along to me with a note that she could not put it down.  I read it in October and though it started rather slowly I was drawn into the story of the life of Edward Curtis who dedicated his life to photographic preservation of the American Indians of the west in the late 1890's and early 1900's.  Starting to read, I was not familiar with Edward but when I saw some of the photos included in this wonderful biography particularly that iconic marvelous sepia of Chief Joseph of the Nez Pierce I realized I had indeed some familiarity with Curtis having seen his photos in travels through the West particularly in exhibits about Native Americans.  
Chief Joseph

This book winner of the National  ook Award, published by Mariner Books, Houghton Mifflin Harcort, in 2013 of 325 pages supplemented by an index and 25 pages of notes and sources presents a history of the early days of photography as well as of the Indians through the tragic  life of Curtis.  He's born in February 1868 in Whitewater, WI, the second of  four children to Johnson Curtis and Ellen Sheriff, a dirt poor family.  His schooling is only through the sixth grade because at 14  he went to work on the railroad to support the family.  The hard luck of the father plagues Edward too who moves with him to Puget Sound to homestead in the fall of 1887; they send for Ellen and the two youngest siblings in May 1888 but Johnson dies three days after their arrival. At only 20 Ed is the sole support again of the family but at 22 suffers a severe fall at work and is bedridden for a year, the hard luck of the father almost seems hereditary.  While he is healing he is inspired to photography, by 1891 he is off to Seattle and marries Clara who visited him while he was bedridden.   By 1895 they have a son and Curtis is  rather successful in Seattle so he brings  his mother, siblings and Clara's sister to live with them.  He and his brother Asahel "have an explosive spat" over photographs and never speak again. 

Edward Curtis
Soon the rush north to Alaska and the Klondike gold are in full swing and while mountaineering on Mt Ranier Curtis  rescues Grinnell and Merrian, eastern naturalists and explorers whom he hosts at his studio showroom later.  They are intrigued with his photographs, pg. 32..."His Indians were a startling departure from the usual depictions of these people.  There were in the faces, human beings, not character types."   .. "Good pictures, Curtis explained, are not products of chance, but come from long hours of study."  Grinnell and Merrian return east but stay in touch with him and in spring 1899 they ask him to join them in the largest  scientific exploration of Alaska where he had previously traveled.  It was to be the last great exploratory expedition of its kind in North America dating to Lewis and Clark, 100 years earlier.  (pg.34)  May 1899 he accompanies them on the steamship along with supplies, livestock and the two best known natrualists in America, John Muir and John Burroughs and Gifford Pinchot, a man of the woods fro a wealthy family.  But I cannot continue to tell the full tragic tale, you must read this for yourself.  His epoch works with Indians, living amongst them over years  earns him the ShadowCatcher" name from Arizona Indians.  He never really achieves the fame during life that he earned  despite  being befriended by President Teddy Roosevelt and backed financially and then clearly shafted by J.P.Morgan and the Morgan survivors.  He comes close to recognition but the black cloud always rises, so it is not a happy story, it is a story of a real life.  On October 19, 1952 Curtis died of a heart attack living in  a small apartment in Beverly Hills, CA; his last years were not pleasant although he tried to capture and document some of his memories for his children s children, he had suffered, become nearly blind and grew crankier.   

The last paragraph of the epilogue, pgs. 324-325 sums the tale, "Though Edward Curtis never made a dime producing what was arguably  the most expansive and comprehensive publication undertaken by a single citizen of the US though  he went to his death without the acknowledgement he so wanted in life, and though he paid for his obsession with the loss of friends, a marriage and the irreplaceable hours of watching a family bloom, he always believed his words and pictures would come to life long after he'd passed--the artist's  lasting reward of immortality.  A young man with an unlived in face found his calling in the faces of a continent's forgotten people, and in so doing he not only saw history, but made it."    

I give this book 5 stars *****; a tragic tale that made my heart ache but taught me a lot of history and meanings of many Indian words.    
Back cover of the book

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

I heard about this book from a local friend  almost a year ago; her grand daughter had passed it along to her. First published in 2005, Knopf released the paperback, 550 pages in September, 2007. Because the movie is now underway,  touted for December release, and I prefer to read a book before I see a movie, I picked it up and read it in a few evening in November.  It is a different book, told by Death personified, set in Germany WWII era, it begins in 1939, and traces the experiences of a young girl, Liesel Meminger who is adopted by her foster family after her brother dies and  her mother can not care for her.  It is one of those books known as a crossover, because it was written for  younger readers, adolescents, juniors but is being avidly read by adults, the genre of books I have found to be clearly and well written with good information and emotionally moving.  It takes a  bit of perseverance to get used to Death as a narrator in what could be a gloomy tale but what becomes historically illuminating.  Reviews compare it to Anne Frank.   This era is of great personal interst to me and having just been through a series of Holocaust lectures at the University of Wisconsin, my interest was reignited.

Leisel's foster family shelters a Jew, Max, who was previously known to her father in their basement.   Leisel who is definitely "slow" learns to read through her nightmares as her father begins to spend evenings and nights with her to soothe her when she awakens screaming. Books are not readily available and Leisel begins to still books, odd ones, those she can save from the incineration piles of the gestapo.  

Listen to Death on pg. 491, "It's probably fair to say that in all the years of Hitler's reign, no person was able to serve the Fuhrer as loyally as me.  A human doesn't  have a heart like mine.  The human heart is a line, whereas my own is a circle, and I have the endless ability to be in the right place at the right time.  The consequence of this is that I'm always finding humans at their best and worst.  I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.  Still, they have one thing I envy.  Humans if nothing else have the good sense to die."

I give this a solid 4 ****

The Pirates of Somalia by Jay Bahadur

At a book sale, I stumbled across this enlightening non-fiction, investigative report of a book, published in 2013 by Pantheon Books of New York, hard back, 272 pages.  It's why I like to browse these book sales, especially when the types of books I enjoy most are often discarded and priced very cheap by those whose reading are limited.  This was very unfamiliar to me, but at $1 how could I go wrong?  Well, it was a treasure to read and a book from which I learned a great deal.  I have always wondered just a how the rag tag group of so called pirates of the Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden could capture merchant ships,  Jay Bahadur, a journalist answers all such questions and more in this book which   I read in September but did not get to post here. The serendipity of  finding "Pirates.." is matched by current interest generated from the recent Tom Hanks movie, about American Captain Richard Philips, captured aboard the vessel, Maersk Alabama in April 2009  by the Somalis.  Today Somalia 's Puntland  is home to 1.3 million people living below squalor primarily  and straddles the shipping bottleneck of the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean.

To attach the word "country" to Somalia, founded in 1998 as a sanctuary for the hundreds of  thousands of Darod clans peoples fleeing massacres in the south,  is beyond a stretch for the word; there is not really a government, it is run by varying tribes at best, and has rampant illiteracy, no employment, no transit,  nomadic paths suffice as roads in most parts, a land of nothing. Pg 10..."contrary to the oft-recycled one-liners found in most news reports, Somalia is not a country in anarchy.  Indeed to even speak of Somalia as a uniform entity is a mis-characterization, because in  the wake of the civil war the country has broken down into a number of autonomous enclaves."  We have a significant population of Somalis settled by our US government in St Paul and Rochester, MN; it is a troubled people who do not assimilate well and the boys and  young men are readily recruited by Islamic jihadists today and repatriated to fight "infidels" in Somalia or elsewhere.  Pg. 5...."Somalia is like a country out of a twisted fairy tale, an ethereal land given substance only by the stories we are told of it."  

His flight to Somalia from Chicago took 45 hours and  connecting through five airports, of sorts.  The map in the front of the book  was an excellent reference for me about the geographic area, central to being understood to appreciate the revelations in the book.  I referred to that map repeatedly while reading to distinguish between Somalia and Somaliland, something I never before understood and the locations of Mogadishu, Puntland, Bosasso, and Galkayo.   It was an intriguing read. Most of the commercial vessels do not employ security guards which are expensive.  The vessels travel slowly and the pirates can easily overtake them.

The author traces the history of the clans  and details how piracy is more a business than an organized crime. Reading about the Somali coast guard (pgs.74-76) reveals the circuitous nature of the Somalis who might begin serving in their rag tag coast guard, then move on to employment as guards on foreign vessels and then as greed overcomes their senses, they hijack the very vessels they were hired to protect and link up with pirates only to later on become employed as guards or even service men  in the coast guard.  The author debunks the myth perpetuated by liberal leaning columnists of how the native fishermen have been driven into piracy while reporting that indeed the waters are being stripped of fish, lobster by the commercial vessels  from China and Korea, Taiwan.    Corruption is rampant but not deemed bad in Somalia but just how the clans operate politically.  International efforts have achieved little to nothing.  The foreign lines captured  have determined it preferable  to  pay the sums demanded by the pirates  to avoid capturing and then what to do with the pirates.  They are not wanted in any of the affected countries.  The piracy profits are not all that much because proceeds must be shared amongst many foot soldiers in the piracy and all their families as well as the backers, or investors.

Page 245 summarizes the progress of  Somali piracy over the last five years despite international efforts; it has become more lucrative with higher ransoms demanded and paid,  the gangs of pirates are slightly more organized and the encounters are becoming bloodier, more violent.  The epilogue proposes some solutions including keep on paying.  "If there is one thing on which every commentator on Somali piracy agrees, it is that the problem must be solved on land, not merely at sea." page 247.  Page 248, "the problem with getting tough with the pirates is that just one misstep could occasion a monumental financial or even ecological disaster, to say nothing of the potential loss of life.  ...In short, for pirates, coming home empty handed might prove as lethal as facing a team of Navy SEALS.  They are scared, desperate and unpredictable, and only one jittery finger on a grenade launcher would be needed to detonate an oil tanker and send a few hundred million dollars--more than the total of all ransoms paid to date--straight to the bottom of the ocean..."

I give this book 4 1/2 ****; and recommend it  to people who want to learn more than the news  reporting which is often exaggerated as well as slanted.  It is just one more example of why I am amused when people tout the breadth of their knowledge and yet base their opinions on what they hear in the news... Here is the back cover:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Killing Jesus by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard

I knew it was imminent yet said I would not buy it right away, that I have so many books on the shelf to read that I could wait, but I was wrong, I kept wondering and so one day as Jerry was on his way to Sam's I said, "pick it up for me."  He did and I read it in 2.5 evenings, all 281 pages including the Acknowledgements, sources post script and afterword.  Published in 2013 by Henry Holt and Company it is another best seller hit for O'Reilly and Dugard, another historical perspective on events, this time people are mightily confused because they think it will change their faith their Christianity.  If it does, they are not very deeply grounded, they are easily dissuaded and they need to learn.  It does not even approach the beliefs of Christians in the Master, that is no where in the purpose of this book.   

Not since my  high school Latin courses have I read so much about Caesar, back then we read Caesar's Gallic wars in Latin of which I took 3 years, which gave me an excellent foundation in language, and history.  As with  the other "Killing" books by O'Reilly, I learned things I never knew, some of which I am not so sure I needed to know as an example, pages 12-13 descriptions of Herod's illnesses and that Nazi's borrowed tactics from the Romans who also had local officials as puppet rulers (pg. 59.) Despite all my religious studies and academic courses in religions, I  did not realize that the Temple in Jerusalem  was twice as big as Rome's forum, pg. 73.  I never knew about the  Roman crucifixion death squads, four men per squad, i.e. quaternio., pg. 216.  Also on pg. 216 the intricate descriptions of the parts of the cross, the upright, vertical part, staticula  was in the ground awaiting the sentenced who carried  the cross bar, patibulum,  on his back. I believe that   every depiction of Jesus on his way to Calvary shows him carrying the cross in entirety.  Pg 223 clarifies that the temple guards who come with Judas  into the Garden are not Romans but Jews.  Page 272 mentions that Islam began in AD610 by Muhammed, 300 years after the legalization of Christianity in the Roman Empire which was in AD 313.  The historical account is  very readable and enlightening.   

There was dissension in my local book club when we chose this book for our November read.  Two of us were reading it; others agreed to it's selection.  But those who did not attend the meeting began an anti email campaign, one excuse and another how they could not get the book from the library, oh tah da, tah da, ta dah.  One who did not attend vociferously complained she did not want to read it, go figure, she's Catholic and that's her excuse? .  I reminded her that O'Reilly is a devout practicing Catholic.  No way to reason with that nonsense so long story short,  those who were not there had their triumph, another blah blah blah book was selected.  I have no tolerance for such adolescent behavior  and I will not be participating in this nonsense. One thing I cannot abide is wasting my time, so no more.   The  group has disintegrated into a ladies chat time, busy bee where thoughtful discussions do not occur. There is no criteria for book selections and as I know all to well, without guidelines, without purpose, whatever happens along is the chosen, good enough.  When absentees carry  more weight than those who show up, there's nothing to be done.  The facilitator recently had knee surgery and  is recovering   so she does not inject any voice of reason. This is not for me.  I am never at a loss of suggestions on books to read, and subscribe to several online services such as Random Reads,  Amazon, Good Reads where reviews are shared as well as thoughtful opinions.   

I give this book a full five stars and recommend it to anyone.  It joins the others as permanent  members in my  home library. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

"Crossing to Safety" first published in  1987 was a "must read" recommendation of Mary Anne Schwalbe in "The End of Your Life Bookclub" written by her son Will. They  read many books that I have read and enjoyed but this was one totally unfamiliar to me.  Based on that, I purchased a new edition of the Modern Library reprint in 2002, with  an afterword by T H Watkins.  I needn't have done so, the book is well written but I had to force myself to continue reading this 327 page paperback novel about two couples in  academia who develop a life long friendship during the Great Depression beginning their careers in Madison, WI.  I was bored throughout with much of the intellectual discourse.  Obviously  the discourses among couples is fiction, people really do not speak in such high brow  ways, do they?.   Perhaps those who have similar career paths as professors and  struggle to gain tenure might enjoy  it and relate to it; one couple is very wealthy despite striving for tenure while  the other is opposite, poor as church mice.

 The introduction by Terry Tempest Williams claims, "It is a love story not in  the sense of titillating dialogue and actions but in the sense that it explores private lives.  No outsider ever knows the interior landscape of a marriage.  It is one of the great secrets kept between couples."

 At times the idyllic carefree lifestyle  reminded me of the movie  "On Golden Pond" as the couples summer at a cottage on Bartell Lake.  Here is one example of the descriptive narrative, page 12,  The second paragraph< beginning  "Leave a mark on the world..."
Page 191, is a rather  lyrical way of saying, watch out for life, because stuff happens.   "Order is indeed the dream of man, but chaos, which is only another word for dumb, blind witless chance is still the law of nature.  You can plan all you want to.  You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions.  But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and  everything you have fought  to make yourself can be undone  as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him.  And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine."

So life does not always go as planned, something  those of us who have  survived well know.  I will be passing this book along.   Because of the good  writing I give it a 3 ***, but I cannot identify anyone to pass this to.  So to the book sale donation stack, it goes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Books read pending posting reviews

Funny how I have less and less time here as I spend more and more time on physical fitness...good thing I am retired because I really would not have time at all for those 12-14 hour career   days.

I have completed several books, but not yet posted my reviews here.  The first, "Killing Jesus" by Bill O'Reilly is another hit for him and Martin Dugard.  Of his 3 Killing books it may be my #3.  I have a funny tale of the book club fiasco to share when I post that review..

Months ago I read my first book on my tablet Kindle app, "The Rose Hotel" by Rahimeh Andalibian.  Not one I'd recommend as I found it tiresome in parts.  An OK.

"Crossing to Safety"  by Wallace Stegner, a classic from the late 50's or early 60"s.  Another OK read.

Two more Kindle reads by the same author, Helen Bryan--"The War Brides" and The Sisterhood.  Both good fast reads..

More later...I am  moving outside to take the sunshine in on this crisp day.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Until They Bring the Streetcars Back by Stanley West

By StanleyGordon West, published in 1997, 274 pages, a well written, fiction,  based in St. Paul, MN in 1949, when the replacement of streetcars by buses was imminent.  Another very quick read and a great book by the Author.  This is fiction, the life story of Cal Gant through late adolescence.  His father is a man set in his ways, a veteran of WWII who drives streetcars with pride.  There is a bit of whimsy  when the description of  hanging onto the street cars happens as the teens amuse themselves.  There is the interlude with Gretchen Luttermann whom Cal befriends in a strange pitiful alliance and her  world with her mysterious  but brutal father.    But over all, it is a tale of  choices one makes in life and  paying the consequences, or living through the results of ones actions.  I would have liked a different outcome for Cal, another chance, a bit more time. Some of life's events  can overtake us, and this fiction is  in that way a tear jerker.

The opening lines caught my attention immediately,  "If I'd never run into Gretchen Luntermann I wouldn't have landed in that crummy jail.  And better still, her father wouldn't be trying to kill me.  I know it sounds pretty normal that a girl's father wants to kill some kid, but he really wanted to kill me and she wasn't even my girl  and it kept getting all mixed up when I tried to explain it."

 I enjoyed this book and am fortunate that a friend loaned it to me.  I give it 4 ****.

Friday, October 4, 2013

I Married the Klondike by Laura Beatrice Berton

I purchased this book in Dawson, the Yukon and would have missed it if not for one of the locals with whom I was talking in that book store of sorts.  I am so fortunate to have picked it up, as it is not a book available or known in the states, or lower 48 as they refer to us up north.  This  is the memoir of Laura Berton who went to the Klondike in 1907 as a 29 year old kindergarten teacher from Toronto leaving her family and life of upper  class comfort for the wilderness.  She was drawn to the life in what they called the Paris of the North, met  the man who would become her husband and  raised her family, having her first child at  42 years old.  I was familiar after traveling there with Pierre Berton's, her son, excellent historical chronicles of the  far north.   Because we  were there in August, this historical writing resounded with me. 

It is a  concise, well written book, at only 231 pages but filled with her perspective in the rugged land and winters.  A magnificent forward by Robert Service, the poet of the north and her son, Pierre are in this republished edition.  Her opening line, is almost an understatement of the life she would have in the bitter cold and the wilderness in the early 1900's, "I imagine that in everyone's life there eventually comes a moment when a simple question or a change meeting or a knock on the door changes the entire course of one's future."   It is a wealth of history and personal anecdotes as well as a unique chronicle of the decline of Dawson after the gold discovery of 1898 peaked. 

In talking about the journey to Whitehorse to Dawson on foot in winter, I shuddered.  It is a rugged land and although we on tour made that trek in train, dome car and by motor coach bus with all amenities  I  appreciated and imagined the hardships endured back in the day. Page 136.mentions the walk ins when the stage would take a fort night, considered too long for the seekers.    "I'm walking in you know, he said, talking as casually as if he were about to take a stroll down Regent Street.  And, off he went, in his brisk way, on a 360 mile hike through deep snow, lonely forest, frozen river and high plateau, in the dead of winter with the thermometer well below zero and the blue Aurora his only beacon.  A short time later we had a letter from him from Dawson describing the experience." 

Seldom do I  include this much from the cover but it conveys the
outstanding historical content and excellent writing of this book. 
 It is a book I will keep for future reference and one I suspect few of my friends will ever read.  I give it 4 ****.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Somebody Else's Music by Jane Haddam

A real murder mystery, a bit on the bloody side but since I could not figure out "who dunnit" I read right  along.  Published in 2003, 483 pages, it was a bargain, a paperback, at the book sale and being unfamiliar with Jane Haddam I  bought it.  It was a fast read, and  the setting  between New York and a northwestern very small town in Pennsylvania, where  there is a high school reunion  gathering is planned intrigued me.  I plan to share this with a friend in PA who likes mysteries.   Near the end the author weaves her own name into the story, a surprise.  I am not certain whether this author  has a chip on her shoulder about her own high school experiences or whether she dwelled on the fantasy of 'what if's' excessively.  In the introduction she states "This is the longest book I have ever written....."  Several characters weave around but the focus is Liz Toliver  who is a professor at Columbia, a widow, mother of two sons, successful writer, who has overcome life tragedies,  moved on and engaged to  Jimmy Card, a rock star heart throb.  She has adopted and provided for Maris Coleman, who was with her in school but who is a drunken, vituperative person. and someone who might be on the streets were it not for Liz's generosity even to providing a semblance of employment.  Liz was  the  ugly duckling in high school, and was seriously tormented by others or bullied in today's  lingo.  Emma, Belinda, Nancy, Chris, and Peggy are other former classmates who  all remained in their small town and who are astir about Liz's arrival.  

Gregor Demarkian is a famous retired detective living in Philadelphia who is called in by Jimmy to determine who is  feeding trash about Liz to the  Enquirer publication.  Apparently the author has used him in another mystery as the title  shows "A Gregor Demarkian Mystery." The action escalates as they all arrive in  Hollman, PA  where Liz's aging mother needs care and a long  ago unsolved murder raises many questions.  I thought this was worth reading as a mystery.  Some of the writing borders between sarcasm and  comedy and is  nicely written.

  Pg 79 where the restaurant menus are  described as "Banana Republic catalogue of restaurant menus, every offering had a story and every story had a wry, whimsical, pixie-sophisticated tone to it."  

Pg. 323 " Not all small towns are alike.  Some are small because they are kept that way, deliberately by  residents whose lives are really in a city not too far away, by people who know very well that a modern and efficient police force is indispensable even if it seems not to be on a day-to-day basis.  Other small towns are really small towns.  They exist naturally.  The people in those live in a bubble that allows them to think that they are immune from the disease of violence that infects every other place and has infected even small towns from the beginning of time."   

Page 379...".the point of the story is that  nobody gets to be successful at anything without something driving them and hat for a lot of us, it was being what I was at this place thirty years ago.  There's an awful lot of people out there who are still playing the In Crowd...." 

Page 381  has a clever line  working the title of the mystery into a summary of life.  

Over all I give this **** 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

Another 5 ***** novel by another previously unfamiliar, to me, author, Sarah Blake, paperback published 2010, 361 pages with supplemental Reader's Guide making it  very suitable for book clubs.  A great tale that opens with the question, "What would you think of a post mistress who chose not to deliver the mail?"  An interesting thought,  how could that happen, so I was ready for Iris James, the  postmaster as she reminded people, "there is no postmistress classification." The tale is set in Cape Cod area of New England in the 1940's  prior to the United States entering World War II.  It is a  historical fictional account of two strong women,  Iris, the town's postmaster and across the ocean, Frannie Bard, a  reporter whose purpose in life is to get at the truth and who is trying to get the US to pay attention to what is happening to the Jews in Germany and the  dreadful bombings of London. from where she reports.  Their lives intersect as Frannie is broadcast back to the states and most follow her.  Besides these two women, there are multiple interesting characters, Harry Vale,   a New Englander,  who becomes Iris' fiancee and self appointed  to keep a coastal watch for German Uboats, Dr Will Fitch who seeks penance by going to London to administer to the people after a patient dies accidentally but he blames himself.  He leaves behind his  wife Emma, whom he does not know is pregnant.  Emma is a needy sort of woman, a clinger,  who comes to know her own strength.  Otto, the town mystery, the one the people suspect to be a Kraut spy.     Rich characters, lives crossed, great writing,  tragedy from the war sprinkled with mystery as to what will happen.  .

As the author comments,  "  It is the story that lies around the edges of the photographs...it's about the lies we tell others to protect them...and about the lies we tell ourselves in order not to acknowledge what we can't bear....and what in the end do we do?"  This novels  weaves around that  concept.  

 Page 3, "Never mind, I.. am old...tired of the terrible clarity of the young..... all of you are young these days."

Page 49:  "  Large and handsome ......Mrs Cripps  stood like a striped tent without an occasion, studying the scene..."

Page 86..."gone to fat, her mother's body, hung like too many coats thrown over a hangar."

Page 245."War was coming....everyone said it, though ......Outside the windows here gulls and swallows divided an undivided sky......if there was a psychology of summer people, it was this: .. Alert and bright they trooped into the post office with letters and cards, wanting to get the work of their vacation out of the way in the morning.""

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

This is a monumental saga which I waited too many years to read and as much as I enjoyed this  historical novel that spans the 12th century  years in England and Europe between 1120 to  about 1174,  my review will be brief.  What can I say that has not been acclaimed by critics ever since the book was  first published in 2002?  I read this in June 2013; at least it did not take me as many years to post this review as it did to fulfill my intention to read it.   Now I have awaiting to be read,  the sequel, "World Without End"   which I will begin when we return next month from a trip. 

Follett is a contemporary British writer of thrillers and historical fiction and considering the millions in  worldwide sales of his books, he is at the top of the favorite writers for many folks, including me.  His books are not for timid readers; this New American Library Deluxe edition in paperback, published in 2007 is over 1000 pages. Beginning with the preface written by the author about how this book came to be written over three years;  there was not a word that I could miss.   

He begins, with  full agreement from me at the start, "Nothing happens the way you plan
it.......A lot of people were surprised by The Pillars of the Earth, including m,  I was known as a thriller writer. In the book business when you have had a success, the smart thing to do is write the same sort of thing, once a year for the rest of your life.  Clowns should not try to play Hamlet; pop starts should not write symphonies, I should not have risked my reputation by writing something out of character and over ambitious."   Follett  went outside his norm  to write this and  we are all enriched by that, yet, he is correct, stick to what you do best, use your skills and make them work for you. The characters in Pillars follow that advice.  The sinister evil people truly remain that way, people really do not change that much.  Look for a facade when  change is touted.      

The history about building cathedrals is enriched by every character in this saga, good and evil. The novel opens November 25, 1120  when the White Ship sets sail for England, as quoted from A.L.Poole in From Domesday Book to Magna Carta.  Immediately the author follows with the first words,  I could not resist..."The small boys came early to the hanging.  It was still  dark when the first three or four of them sidled out of the hovels, quiet as cats in their felt boots."  When I read "The End of Your Life Book Club", (see my review July 2013, this blog) I was pleased to see this was one of the great books Will and his mother shared and that first sentence of Pillars in quoted.  

Through many characters and happenings weaving lives tragedies and triumphs,  this novel follows Philip, prior of Kingsbridge, "a devout and resourceful monk driven to build the greatest Gohic cathedral the world has ever known,"  Tom the  poor mason who becomes the architect, the Lady Aliena who carries a lifelong dark shameful secret to Philip's appointment  to bishop, and the caning of the King Henry II in Canterbury in 1174.    There is every human emotion in this novel as well as every conceivable human activity--murder, arson, treachery, torture, tolerance, love, lust, triumph the good, the bad and the ugly.  

Absolutely a 5 ***** read.     I wish I had a list of all the characters but I read this without any attempt to compose that I was just that engaged by this epic.  

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

When I first learned about this book through my subscription to Random Reads I thought it might be about were wolves; how I got that impression bewilders me.  Published 2013 in paperback, 355 pages with a reading guide for book club discussions, it's a good debut novel and the second book I have read in the past month about adolescent sisters.  I was intrigued by the cover and  drawn into the story as  told in retrospect by June, aka "Crocodile" the 15 year old.  It is set in 1986 in New York City amidst the AIDS crisis.  The very first sentence draws the reader, "My sister, Greta and I were having our portrait painted by our uncle Finn that afternoon because he knew he was dying.  This was after I understood that I wasn't going to grow up and move into his apartment and live there with him for the rest of my life.  After I stopped believing that the AIDS thing was all some kind of big mistake..."   She adores Uncle Finn, her mother's only brother.  But not until his death does she learn so much more about him, his life, his fame and his deep relationship to Toby, his partner.  The cover illustrates the Russian teapot that  Finn wills to June instructing  that she serve  tea from it to only "the best people."  Toby is persona non grata to her family but through Finn's legacy, June develops a secret friendship with him and learns how deeply he and Finn cared for each other, while he too is terminal with AIDs.   

June is an independent but emotional teenager,  solitary through her adolescent angst and retreats into the woods near her school to just be...I enjoyed time alone in the Pennsylvania woods where I grew up so I immediately related to her.  Pg. 11..."Going into the woods by yourself is the best way to pretend  you're in another time.  It's a thing you can only do alone.  If there's somebody else with you, it's too easy to remember where you really are. ... The first thing I do when I go to the woods is hang my backpack on a tree branch.  Then I walk.  To make it work, you have to walk until you can't hear any cars at all, and that's what I do.......In the book "A Wrinkle in Time" it says that time is like a big old rumpled blanket....""

The girl's parents are both successful accountants so that in  tax season they become "tax orphans" as Mom and Dad work long hours and this allows their independence to take over.    June is  more introverted while her sister Greta is the opposite, outgoing, a joiner in all school activities, a participant and into more things than the parents imagine including  alcohol with her partying friends.  June observes and at times saves Greta from herself.  June secretly journeys to the city to spend time with Toby without her parents knowing.  Meantime the portrait  Finn painted of the girls is mentioned in the newspaper as missing and worh  hundreds of thousands of dollars.  Toby plays  the key role at the end rescuing Greta when June is confined to quarters after her desecration of the sister's portrait is discovered. Some sadness and tears close the novel.   

I  will suggest this book to our book club because it has a dearth of emotion and good reading. It is a 4****;  I am glad to have read it but would not have chosen it randomly.    

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

When I saw the first mention of this book in a review last year it sounded like something I wanted to read; although I mentioned it to my local book club twice, they were not interested.  When I saw it newly released June 2013  in the First Vintage Books Edition, paperback,  I scanned it in the store and picked it up immediately.  I adored this book for so many reasons, first very well written by this new author who is no stranger to literature and the publishing world; second the tale is heart touching of an adult son  accompanying his mother who has terminal pancreatic cancer to  her chemo treatments  at Sloan Kettering; third, it is really about books, their lessons and the characters. It is a keeper in my home library as a reference when I want something different or new to me to read.  I was about to make a list of all the books and authors  he and his mother were reading and discussing when I found the author was astute and  made such a reference of each book mentioned in the Appendix.  Their first book, "Crossing to Safety" by Wallace Stegner, is new to me but was first published in 1987 and I related to Will immediately when he wrote on Page 5, after Mom recommends he read it,  "..I have a copy...which was in fact true.  There are certain books that I mean to read and keep stacked by my bedside.  I even take them on trips.  Some of my books should be awarded their own frequent flier miles, they've traveled so much.  I take these volumes on flight after flight with the best of intentions and then wind up reading anything and everything else, SkyMall, ..."  Oh he is clever in describing traits and activities we book or reading addicts all share.  In my career days I always traveled with a book.  Today in our motor coach I always have a book to read but there are a few out there that have traveled the country without my opening them.  

Both Will and his mother are inveterate readers; his career in publishing and as a journalist affords him immediate
access to new books, but their tastes range from old to new, novels, to memoirs. On page 7,  "We all have a lot more to read than we can read and a lot more to do than we can do. Still one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn't the opposite of doing; it the opposite of dying."  I gained an appreciation of novels and learned that I do not miss out by reading fiction,  that non-fiction is not the only way we can learn.  This book about books and what they teach us ends with  the fact that the characters and people and the connections we can make through books is vital.   

As the book begins, Mary Anne Schwalbe 73 years old has been an active person in her own career and in working with and for refugees through the International Rescue Committee. She is an inspiring lady whose last major achievement was to build a library in Kabul Afghanistan.  She had traveled the world and  was deeply involved and caring keeping in touch with former students, and friends through out her life. This memoir is a  testament to her through the eyes of her son, Will but it also describes his journey with her illness and touches briefly on how the rest of the family copes although in his introduction he claims this is his story and they (his father , brother and sister) have their own stories to tell "if and when they choose."  He does not document the family through his own opinion, but shares a personal view.  I enjoyed that  rather than his opinion extending to others actions, he sticks to himself.  

There is mention about the difference between books Mary Anne says he "must read" compared to those she merely wants him to read. as well as physical books vs. e-books on Pgs 42-43.  Mary Anne is a unique person for always feeling lucky and always seeing the best in every person and situation.  He  is blessed to have been her son.  I share the perspective about gratitude and writing prompt thank you notes on page 211.    

I could go on and on about this book, but really, if you are a reader and enjoy books, this is one you must read.   This is a fast read at only 326 pages.  A 5 ***** and  a keeper for me.   

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Gate House by Nelson DeMille

I read this book  over a month ago but just  catching up on some posting here.  I had not read any of De Mille's  books previously and based on my impression of  The Gate House am unlikely to read others.  A recent American Legion magazine featured him,  so I thought I might enjoy his books so when I  found this first edition, October 2008 at a book sale I picked it up.  It will go back to the book sale donation stack, all 674 pages. He is a prolific author and apparently popular.  The story seemed like it could be interesting fiction, of treachery told by John Sutter, a divorced man who sails off to England after his wife, Susan, has an affair with their mafia Don neighbor a client of John's and kills the Don.  They are both WASPs  and she, Susan is from old money family  which has seen better times. The first sentence on  the flap of the book cover, "DeMille  is as keen a social satirist as Edith Wharton." might have alerted me that I could avoid this book.  I am not fond of Wharton either.   Inside the hard cover, front and back is a nice map of  the "Gold Coast of Long Island, New York" depicting the Atlantic Ocean, neighborhoods on Long Island, etc.  That is interesting and reminiscent of older literature where often the insides of the covers had artwork.  

Initially the writing  enticed me, ..pg 6..."The presence of death in the coffin should compel us
into some profound thoughts about the shortness of life and make us rethink our many disappointments, resentments, and betrayals that we can't seem to let go of.  Unfortunately, however, we usually take these things to the grave with us, or the the grave of the person we couldn't forgive in life."   Pg. 14..."We all have trouble parting with things like this, but I can tell you, as a  lawyer and a man, no good can come of saving anything you wouldn't want your family or your enemies to see"  Pg. 83.."An individual passes through a continuum of time and space, but now and then you enter a warp that sucks you back into the past. You understand what's going on because you've been there before but that's no guarantee that you're going to get it right this time.  In fact, experience is just another word for baggage.  And memory carries the bags."    He is a good writer, descriptive, thoughtful.  

John has returned to  Long Island because he is the estate attorney for a   terminal  elderly client and curious if he can restructure a relationship with his adult children after the tragedy and divorce.  There is intrigue with the Bellarosa, Mafia family as the son, Anthony has a vendetta against Susan, who was acquitted in the murder. While the story was rather interesting and some of John's comments to himself or thoughts are borderline comical and certainly satirical, the book is too long for the story.  The characters are  well described and  life like; his ex-in laws, Susan's parents are timelessly troublesome.  But,  I grew tired of the author's inclusion of sexual activities.  It was as though DeMille needed to achieve massive volume and to do so he had to include the sexual romps and details.  He could eliminate most of that and still have a good story line.  However,  I can find so many more interesting books to read that De Mille is not an author whom I'll repeat reading. 

Despite good writing, characters, and story line, I give this book only 2  at most 3 stars.  *** 


Monday, July 15, 2013

The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls

A friend bought and lent me this  new novel by Jeannette Walls, author of Half Broke Horses  and her memoir, The Glass Castle and I read it in a few evenings.  I had not yet noticed it on the  best seller's lists but it is guaranteed to be there,  according to the NY Times review,  "  There’s a reason crazy mothers appear in fiction more often than semicolons. Write what you know, as they say.
Jeannette Walls established her bona fides in the unreliable parent department with her memoir, “The Glass Castle,” a case study in how to survive a chaotic childhood and get into Barnard."   http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/30/books/review/the-silver-star-by-jeannette-walls.html
Jeannette has another hit with this story of young sisters, Bean and Liz being raised by a not all there single mother, Charlotte, who keeps a step ahead or behind, depending on the day, of her demons and dreams  by moving constantly around the country dragging the girls behind her.   Charlotte is an aspiring singer, actress, songwriter so it is not happenstance that they are in California. But Charlotte,  who must have authored her own book on dysfunction,  has a bad habit of leaving the two girls alone to fend for themselves with a refrigerator  freezer stocked with chicken pot pies and  supposedly enough money for them to get by until her return.  This time though, Bean age  12 and Liz  age15  decide they can sit there no longer and wait for their disappearing Mom to return, so they leave a note and board a bus to Byer, Virginia, Mom's hometown.  There they plan to visit unexpectedly and unannounced Mom's widower brother,  their Uncle Tinsley Holladay and wait for word from Mom who is off pursuing a fabricated career. Bean is the narrator of this story although Liz has a way with words and  is fond of reading Edgar Allan Poe. But when school starts Bean adjusts easier than Liz who becomes withdrawn.   As they make their way around the formerly  prosperous but  now  run down mill town they determine they  will have to find work to supplement living with Uncle Tinsley.  Jerry Maddox, the  manager of the mill who ousted Uncle Tinsley when the mill was sold is the only person who hires them, and that provides another twist.  For the first time in her life Bean sees at  photo of her dead  father and learns about Charlie Wyatt through her Aunt Al and uncle Clarence, Charlie's brother and that  provides the title of the book, because Charlie was a war hero who was awarded  a silver star.  The girls have different fathers and Mom never said anything about Charlie.   Mom has contact with them now and then by phone but is now occupied with settling in  New York to make her career on Broadway, sometimes Mom calls sometimes she does not.  Bean also gains friendship of her cousin, Joe, All & Clarence's son despite chasing him from the orchard.    The story also  includes two emus, Eunice and Eugene, whom the girls acquire because their owner  decides he cannot keep them home on the farm.  One very amusing section is  the emu  pasture break out and their subsequent capture by lasso.   The girls are enrolled in school that fall in Byer which is just being fully integrated which provides more challenges.  

T  The descriptive writing and  compelling characters whose experiences relate a gamut of emotions as does the story. including  comical,  pathetic, tragic, heroic, and unfathomable.  The dark side of evil and how it is overcome triumphantly after all sums up the tale.  Wall's writing continues to shine as do her characters and phrases.... She has a website at the publisher with other information and where an excerpt of the  book is available.   http://pages.simonandschuster.com/jeannettewalls

.I laughed on  pg 43 after they are in Byer, "you only wave at people you know,,,,you must be from CA"   that scenario reminded me of Jerry's now dead mother who upon returning here to her hometown in MN when we all moved from CA after our retirement had an adjustment being friendly and was stuck in unfriendliness.  

Here's advice from Cuz Joe,  page 256...."you don't stop fighting just because you start losing "

his novel is 4 **** and one that reads quickly.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough

Mornings on Horseback about Theodore Roosevelt was republished  in 2001 in paperback by Simon and Schuster  (originally in 1981) 370 pages, shorter than many other McCullough books.   It is  another great read by my favorite historical  author David McCullough.  Now I have only one more of McCullough's to read before I will have fulfilled my goal to read all the books he has written.  I adore his research and writing.  The only criticism of this particular book is that it is only a snippet of the life of Teddy Roosevelt.  But once again I learned a lot about that family and about Teddy in a saga that covers  only 1869-1886.  I wished it had gone on and perhaps McCullough will come through with more yet.    

The historical information  ranges from political to geographical, NY Senator Roscoe Conkling, the 1876 Cincinnati Republican Convention where Rutherford Hayes becomes the compromise candidate, Chester Arthur's presidency after the New York Customs House corruption, the moiety system (no typo there), and of course the early years of Teddy's life, his devotion to his mother, his illnesses, his wealthy family and life of philanthropy.  So much was familiar to me from other historical readings I have enjoyed but so much was fresh and new as McCullough always presents.  I was enthralled with "Greatheart" Teddy's father and how he not only gave to the poor he worked with them leaving his  fabulous home every Sunday evening to go to the  orphanage and the home for newsboys that he established.  

 Theodore was married twice, his first wife Alice dies shortly after the birth of their daughter Alice, and soon after the death of his beloved mother, Mittie.  Mittie was a southern beauty, a confederate sympathizer who thrived in the midst of New York yankee society.  I learned that this wealthy family endured trials and tragedies and not all of them came to happy endings  reaffirming that money cannot resolve everything.  This is the  1800's  time of Eastern society where  upper class meant upper class, no mingling with lesser levels.  The Roosevelts kept to themselves and their family.  All the children were home schooled we would say today to keep them aside.  This explains some  of the intermarrying of that  clan.  I cannot say too much about this book, I loved it and wished it had gone on longer than it did but worth reading the  fascinating history and is real keeper book for me.  Five star read *****

Here is the back cover which you can read by enlarging the photo:

Cross Roads by Wm.Paul Young

Published in November 2012, by the Hatchett Book Faith Words, 290 pages by the author of "The Shack" a book I enjoyed.  I cannot say the same for this one, ho hum,  I made it through 117 pages of trite tedious reading, validating why it was 70% off at Books-a-Million this spring.  I thought maybe the author has done it again but by the  20th page, very early on I was disabused of that hope and yawned my way along waiting for the story to evolve.    By the  2nd page I detect that Anthony aka Tony, the main character is a facade, an overly successful businessman who makes friends only to manipulate them and drinks Scotch  as his "over the counter RX."  It is shades of every low budget book around, particularly those  touting  religious aspects, etc.   Tony  suffers a stroke, cerebral hemorrhage, lands in ICU and the story follows a familiar downhill well trodden trail from there as he lingers in a coma, will he live or die?  And the nether-land he experiences waiting is shades of "Saving Ararat" one of the  worst books I've ever read.  He encounters presences, people from the past and new people, and Jesus, the Holy Spirit, all that and begins to sense and see his life.  There are too many good books waiting to be read so I wasted no more time on this, tossed it onto the donate pile.  It is barely a star * and that only for publishing it, better yet for convincing people to spend money on such trivia disguised in spirituality.  A big disappointment and proof that modern authors often  have but one book to write.  *

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Blind Your Ponies Stanley Gordon West

Moved this one from my other blog.  read it in 2011 as a book club selection.

Blind Your Ponies, by Stanley Gordon West             *****

Our book club selection, a paperback.   Outstanding novel about  a high school in Montana and their boys long time loosing basketball team, and their town. At first I thought, why do I want to read about boys basketball, but once I started the characters and their stories and the interweaving drew me in.  Excellent characters especially the basketball coach, townsfolk, and some of the boys and how they landed in Montana.  Written by a MN author. His  selection of the title  and what it represents from the Indian culture is a story unto  itself.  

This book would make a wonderful movie with the  right cast, Matt Damon as Sam Pickett.  I want to  read more of his books I understand he has written one about  old folks in the Twin Cities, "Until They Bring the Streetcars Back."   

I just posted a Facebook like about this book so others would know.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Burgess Boys; Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

When I read that  Elizabeth Strout's newest book was out, I knew I would want to read it and there it was in Barnes and Noble, as I was passing through on  the day I had received an extra 15% off coupon, which meant a full 55% off the price,  What a bargain, being a "book drunkard" how could I resist?   Newly released, published by Random House 2013, 320 pages, and being a new book in hardback.  I read it in 4 evenings and felt disappointed by the ending, where we are left to imagine once again what happens but these characters are again memorable.  As I reread my review about "Olive Kitteridge"  I see I  was ambivalent about that ending, too, but in "The Burgess Boys", I felt like shouting, "Hey wait a minute what happens to the rest of it?  What about Jim?"  

This novel comes sans reader's guide, likely because it's too new.  The novel tells the story of the Burgess family, two brothers Jim and Bob and a sister, Susie.  Bob and Susie are twins but Jim the eldest is the high achiever and the apple of the eyes of all.  They grow up in Maine but the brothers leave for New York, Sue stays behind.  All are haunted in their own way all through life by the fatal accident that takes their father when they are young tots.  But when Zack, Sue's son commits an outrageous act toward the Somalis who have  been settled in their small Maine town, the plot heats and thickens and the brothers, both attorneys, are called  back to help.  Jim is the achiever of the three, big time successful corporate  attorney in a prestigious law firm, living the good life, married to the wealthy Helen, with a perfect family, now an empty nest. Jim ultimately has a typical mid life crisis.   Bob has done OK despite two divorces but he is the more withdrawn less ostentatious  brother, the one who lives in Jim's shadow, the Legal Aid attorney. Bob has a cordial relationship with  his  ex wife Pam Carlson in her new marriage with her two sons who treat him as an uncle.   While Sue is the withdrawn, somewhat  neurotic single mother, clinging to her son and then unable to manage or cope when Zack gets into trouble. She rents out room to Mrs. Drinkwater, an eaves dropping older lady who becomes a savior for Sue.  

 I was drawn into the description of settlement of Somali's in Maine because that happened in MN as well in St. Paul, Minneapolis and even Rochester area and  one Maine Somali character is  said  to have  gone to Minnesota where the atmosphere was more welcoming and life would be better.  That the  Somalis are Muslim adds another layer to their acceptance or not in the community while paralleling immigrants and their concerns.  One Somali, character Abdikarim becomes more prominent toward the end of the story. 

As in her other works, the characters are intriguing and the writing abounds with witty quotes and phrases worth underlining.  

Page 94, about Abdikarim,  demonstrates her skill at describing feelings of immigrants and while the situation borders on the humorous, there is a tragic depth...."He felt too old to learn English.  Without that, he lived with constancy of incomprehension.  In the post office last month he had mimed and pointed to a square white box, the woman in her blue shirt repeating and repeating and he did not know and everyone in the post office knew and finally a man came to him and crossed his arms quickly toward the floor, saying "Fini!"  And so Abdikarim thought the post office was finished with him and he must go and he did go.  Later he found out  the post office was out of the boxes they had sitting o the shelf with price tags on them.  Why did they show them if they did not have them to sell?  Again the incomprehension......Living in a world where constantly one turned and touched incomprehension--gave the air the lift of uncertainty and this seemed to wear away something in him,...."   

Page 4....about  Unitarians...."My mother did not like Unitarians; she thought they were atheists who didn't want to be left out of the fun of Christmas, but ...".    

page 182..."..because friends faked it with each other all the time, it's how society existed... .....Helen crossed her legs feeling how her black pantyhose  had become twisted at the thighs, no doubt from having to pull them up quickly in the stall as the gong rang out its warning.  What had the feminists accomplished, she thought, if women still had to wait twice as long in ladies' room lines?" 

page 222..."The key to contentment was to never ask why; she had learned that long ago."

page 311...Bob's response to Jim who asks what to do because now he has no family, .."You have family......a wife who hates you.  Kids who are furious with you.  A brother and sister who make you insane.  And a nephew who used to be kind of a drip but apparently is not so much of a drip now.  That's called family."    That demonstrates that soap opera families and the Walton's are not real family today.  I found that truthful and comical.  

Poignant, comical and thought provoking,  all adjectives for The Burgess Boys.  "Literary art" is a very appropriate tag for this book. This is a 5 star book *****

Here's my review, from my other blog March 10, 2010  Olive Kitteridge

I read Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, 270 pages + Reader's Guide, paperback, published by Random House in 2008,  last month but  have not had time to post my review.  My cousin, Carol, recommended it because I absolutely adored  "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society."   In a way Olive is similar but  still very different.   My final verdict on this book though, is uncertain.  I did enjoy reading it and noted several phrases but didn't like the ending.  The  descriptive writing is outstanding, but a peculiar darkness  seeps in at times.  The link to this post indicates that this won a 2009 Pulitzer; a merited achievement.   While the main character is Olive, a  mathematics school teacher in Maine in her  sixty's, the novel  looks back over the area and features  short tales about many characters.   I kept waiting for Olive to appear prominently  or heroically in each story but that was not the way it happened, sometimes she was annoying but each character, in turn, reveals more about Olive's character and the area. the town, the times, and above all the choices people make.  I am not sure whether I admired or pitied Olive.   The book is a significant  commentary about people, aging and life;  perhaps on the more quiet morose side, but certainly from Olive's eyes with many memorable lines.   I love the description of hope.  Actually I highlighted many lines in the book

Pg. 35,   "Does everybody know everything?......Oh, sure, what else is there to do?"

Pg. 60.  "..that must be the way of life, to figure something out when it's too late..."

Pg. 122.  "..when the years behind you are more than the years in front of you...."

Pg. 125  "..life picked up speed, then  most of it was gone..."
Pg. 126   "..one of the things about getting older, so many moments weren't moments but gifts...."
Pg. 162  "..quietly, joyful....Most people did not know enough when they were living life, that
they were living it..."

Pg. 203  " hope...The inner churning that moves you forward...."

And in  the  beginning of the book, a comment on pg. 33 while Kevin looks back at his childhood home, "States and traits....Traits don't change,  states of mind do."   That stuck with me, confirming that  often there is nothing to be done;  things about a person that  cannot ever change no matter what influences are pressed on the person.   No manipulation or intrusion by someone else really changes traits. Distinguishing wisely and truthfully accepting traits is part of the wisdom we can gain on our life journey.   

Olive Kitteridge is a book to ponder on, especially the  ending comparison  page 270 of two lives as Swiss cheese  slices, "..pressed together, such holes they brought to this union--what pieces life took out of you."

PS,  when I reviewed "Olive"  I was not using my star rating.  Retroflectively I give it 5 *****