Saturday, September 5, 2015

American Lion by Jon Meacham

I have read quite a few books about Andrew Jackson, our seventh president who is a contradictory historical leader, who really is the founder of the Democratic party, yet this 2008 history of  his White House years in the 1830's  by Jon Meacham appealed to me.  It too sat on my shelf awhile, another booksale find.  This hardback edition is 361 pages with an epilogue by the author, "He still lives" and 76 pages of interesting footnotes, most of which I  read through chapter by chapter.  It begins, "It looked like war.  In his rooms on the second floor of the White House, in the flickering light of candles and oil lams, President Andrew Jackson was furious and full of fight.  He had just been reelected to a second term as America's seventh president, and South Carolina was defying him.  He hated it, for he believed to his core that the state was about to destroy the nation.  For Jackson, the crisis was not only political.  It was personal." 

 I was familiar with his rough life, orphaned at 14, he never knew his father who died the year he was born,  prologue page xix, "I have been Tossed upon the waves of fortune." Jackson said and he spent his life seeking order amid chaos and authority among men.  I was familiar with his physical description, but Meacham reminds us on the first page, "gaunt but striking, formidable head of white hair, nearly constant cough, a bullet lodged in his chest, Jackson 65 years old that winter stood 6'1" and weighed 140 pounds."   A slight  man but huge in determination and temperament, Jackson expanded the presidential powers in ways that none of his predecessors would have considered.   The author says Jackson is in many ways the most like us.  Reading about Jackson one  sees the American character being formed and our country's competing impulses and struggles between grace, rage, generosity and justice.  Jackson is the epitome of the self made man and learned as a young orphan to adapt to shifting circumstances.  He spent his life seeking affection and deference and wanted to be both admired and in charge. (prologue XXII).  Jackson considered steadiness of faith and sophistication of thought  as essential leadership qualities.  

Life in his time was rough and tiring, yet he said"I was born for a storm and a calm does not suit me." (Prologue xxiv)  

Jackson survived tragedies including the death of his beloved wife, Rachel who was plagued by vicious scandals and rumors.  He was loyal to his friends and family and that would cause problems for him in the White House.  Still, he stuck with his friends no matter what, a trait I admire.  Often times this loyalty did not serve him well as with the Eaton's whom he upheld amidst all scandal and  despite being at odds with his own niece, Emily of whom he  was most fond, especially after Rachel's death.  Emily and her husband would be his key White House hostess and adviser and  at times his demands would separate husband and wife.

 Jackson  was an unrepentant slave owner.  He had rescued and raise an Indian orphan yet he was responsible for evicting and moving the Indian tribes across the Mississippi having convinced himself that the Indians could never exist alongside whites.  He absolutely abhorred the Eastern financial elites and the Bank of the US which he felt was corrupt beyond redemption.  Yet he swore to die if necessary to preserve the power of the central government.  He and his country at the time, achieved great things while committing grievous sins.  

This is packed with history of the time and filled with interactions among so many historical characters like John Quincy Adams, Martin Van Buren, Daniel Webster, John Coffee, John Calhoun and  all the historical figures of the times.  Meacham writes as an investigative journalist and his intense research results in a vivid readable portrayal of Jackson and his inner circle. 

I thoroughly enjoyed  American Lion and give it 5 *****

A Time to Heal Gerald R Ford

A book sale find which has been on my to be read shelf a year or so, Gerald Ford's autobiography of his time in the White House, published in 1979.  Back then, I was very annoyed that he pardoned Richard Nixon, but came to understand later  that it was the right thing to do in hopes that the country could move forward and he as the new president could begin to  set in place policies to improve the economy. There is a full detail of his controversial decision to pardon Nixon and the bizarre behind the scenes negotiations between Washington and San Clemente, between the new and the fallen President.

Reading this 442 page hardback is now like reading a history book of that trying time and as I have come to admire Gerald Ford over years, reading this in his own words, gave me a breadth of understanding that I never had before of the turmoil he faced.  He was a very decent man, honorable and  never dreamed of being president, in fact his aspiration was to become Speaker of the House.  He describes his political battles while in Congress, and his long hours as House Minority leader.    There is a small part about his very early years and how his natural father appears when he is 16 years old, the hard times the family went through, and his struggle to be accepted by the Yale Law school. Ford was never given the credit he deserved as a man who rose to guide a tattered country. Page 156 describing the growing entitlements and  how by 1974, the role of government was shifting from promoting domestic order and maintaining national security to redistribution of income on a massive scale. " More and more people who worked were transferring more and more money to people who didn't work. ...I couldn't abolish those entitlement programs but I could try to put the brakes on their rate of growth."

I had long forgotten that he tried early on to deal with rising crime (pgs. 269-270) adopting the theories of Harvard Professor James Q Wilson,  who advocated that crimes should be punished, that the purpose of prison is to punish not to rehab.  "The certainty of having to spend a specified time behind bars after being convicted of a serious offense, Wilson maintained, was more important as a deterrent than almost anything else.  Finally Wilson worried that the nation's opinion leaders were focusing their concerns on the criminal and not on the victims of criminal acts."

Back cover
Throughout the narrative he describes his amazement at the partisan  politics that had begun to fiercely dominate the country,  his disbelief because he thought he had friends on both sides. Yet inspite of defeats he never blames anyone nor becomes bbitter, how different from those today who do only blaming.   On pages 296-8,  he details his decision to run for president rather than retiring as he had intended to do before he became President and  the rise of the Reagan candidacy.  There is quite a bit of depth about the Reagan race and from reading I can easily see that Ford was not fond of Reagan, was not a fan and believed he was a one liner, with no accomplishments.  I wonder what he would think today.  This is the essence of a good book to me, read with the   background of history, a history I lived thru; I gained new insights and greater understanding of that time and how we got to where we are today.    The discussion about the problems with Solzhenitsyn brought a flash back to an era I had also forgotten. The Chinese, Chairman Mao himself warned Ford about the Russian threat in years to come, it has materialized.   On pages 338-341, the descriptions of the  nation's pending issues and the legislation that he sent to Congress and the political maneuvers that thwarted much of what he attempted is ponderous, he wrestles with vetoes and issues that could have been resolved way back then except for the  extremism that arose.

Page 346, "In many respects I had all the liabilities of an incumbent President and few advantages.  ..Occasionally in making up my mind whether to sign or veto a bill I had appeared to be indecisive.  The Common Situs Picketing bill was a perfect example."  This struggle with labor unions, congress, and members of his cabinet makes fascinating historical reading now.  Yet how far the country has traveled down the downward slope since Ford's presdency.  Reading this book shows how history becomes  predictable.  Page 346, " "A great nation cannot escape its responsibilities.  Responsibilities abandoned today will return as more acute crises tomorrow."  Flash forward today with the wreck Obama is continuing to make of this country, especially with the Iran nuclear deal, creating absolute crises and likely nuclear war in the future.

I rate this book 4 stars, some details are tedious but my depth of understanding of governmental operations, policy implications and legislation  handily contributed to my appreciation of the work.  Once again my 34 years career in state government is beneficial.  Still one could skim some of the detail and still appreciate the history conveyed, written then but enjoyable reading now.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Tumbleweeds by Leila Meacham

Finally read the second book by Leila Meacham.published in 2012,  paperback is 466 pages plus a guide for book club readers or others.  Enjoyed it, not quite as much as "Roses" or it's prequel "Somerset" which was her  3rd novel,  but it was a good summer, light  novel reading.  The characters are interesting and the story kept my interest through the entire novel.  The prologue opens in 2008, " The call he'd been expecting for 22 years came at midnight when he was working late at his desk.  He had a second's start, the kind of stab he'd experienced often in the first years when the telephone rang in the early hours....." So it begins with Jesuit priest, Father John Caldwell.  The call is from Trey, his best friend from childhood and through high school.  The three main characters, John, Trey and Catherine,  three children with heart tugging stories whose lives are well portrayed by the title flower, tumbleweeds.  What  could have been a gushy story keeps interest and winds through their lives as each character develops into an individual, unique as the Texas prarie landscape.

 It is quite different from the author's sagas of Roses and Somerset,  but readable.  Surprising outcome as I  had thought all along there would be a mistake, a Hollywood ending was not to be as the author explains in the reading guide. I am not sure what southern fiction means, as this is  described, but  find it intriguing and as always the author has done accurate research.

I give it 4 ****.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Books donated, making space, Ahab's Wife and The Friday Night Knitting Club

August 2015 donation stack
I donated a stack of favorite books that I have read  the last few years to the library for the bookstore or shelves as needed there.  I continue with my sporadic efforts to declutter and although I have a built in library in our study with  shelves filled with collections of books, floor to ceiling, I realize that I am not likely to ever reread these books again and so why keep them.  Yes, they were all great reads and yes, they all had memorable lines, quotes, etc. but the truth simply is, it was time to clear spaces. First I  perused them and reread hilited passages that I had marked.  But off they went, well the library will either use them or for sure the revenue from selling them and someone else can appreciate them as I did.   I have my collections of hardback classics and adored  authors such as James Michener and David McCullough for which there will always be space, I have some old books from the  1940's that I retrieved from PA when clearing my late Uncle's home, my late aunt had collected and kept these books.  Back then one did not dispose of books and  very few bought books, so they were treasured.  Today paperbacks and reprints have replaced the hardback, classic bindings with unique sketches, in fact many people today simply read on Kindles or electronically.  I do some of that, but still am old school enough to prefer a book.  There is another phenomena at work, some books are only available on Kindle or e-read versions; in my experience most of these are not worth wasting one's eyeballs on and would not be worth printing, but e-versions make them available for less discriminating readers.  So books, books to a lifelong reader like me will always have a place in my home, but really I do not need to hold onto everything I purchase.    

I recalled that I read this one long ago, a new author to me but a superb writer and tale teller.  I  purchased  it in September 2004, as I contemplated imminent retirement and moving to MN.  I noted that it took me a long time to read it, finally finishing in February 2005.  We were so very busy with moving even though we had been aware of the imminence since 2003 when we bought this MN home.  Surprisingly this book traveled back and forth across the country and back to CA to return to MN and a top shelf space in my library.   It is a wonderful book, an excellent story, that as the back cover states, from the opening line you know you are in the hands of a master story teller, "Captain Ahab was neither my first husband nor my last..."  As with the other books I donated, I paused, do I let it go or not.  Well I know no one who would want it and so off to the next reader wherever that person may be.  
 Here is but one wonderful passage from Ahab's Wife, page 197,  Captain Ahab is talking with Mrs. Sparrow, :  "What does the word  mean, Nantucket?  
 It's the Indians' name for the faraway land, for its distance from the mainland.  
And Kentucky--its meaning?  
Also an Indian word--the dark and bloody land. 
 *****Beware the treachery of words, Mrs. Sparrow.  They mean one thing to  one person and opposite to another.  They are like all conventional, land born habits.  Words seem to be well woven baskets ready to hold your meaning, but they betray you with rotted corners and splintered stays."  

Or page, 553, "It is a splashing spanking surf tonight.  Earlier, there were  fists in it and the water pow pounded the shore.  "

Another book carefully donated is the Kate Jacobs tale, The Friday Night Knitting Club.  An interesting tale from the opening page, "choosing your wool is dizzying with potential.  The waves of colors and textures tempt with visions of a sweater or cap and all the accompanying compliments you hope to receive but don't reveal the hard work required to get there.  Patience and attention to detail make all the difference.  And willingness.  Challenge keeps it interesting, ..."

Weekly a group of women gather at a New York City yarn shop to work on their projects and share the stories of their lives.  

Page 137 caught my hi liter back when I read this and it still strikes me today, too little too late..."..when you're young you always think you'll meet all sorts of wonderful people, that drifting apart and losing friends is natural.  You don't worry at first, about the friends you leave behind.  But as you get older, it gets harder to build friendships.  Too many defenses, too little opportunity.  You get busy.  And by the time you realize that you've lost the dearest best friend you ever had, years have gone by and you're mature enough to be embarrassed by your attitude and frankly by your arrogance."    So true as I have learned moving here to MN where the people are into their lifelong routines and  seldom make room for new  friends.  Sure e have acquaintances, but few real friends. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Continued and ended Part 2 7 more

Way back in May I tried to play catchup listing books I have read, reviews, etc..Never happened and as time keeps rolling along and so much else takes time from keyboard, the stack of books I need to post grows.  This creates issues with me, because I dislike clutter and would prefer to get these books out of here and donated.  Finally in one of my talks to myself, I said, "Loook here Patty Lou, just list the  books, forget about scanning covers, reviews, quoting from the  pages and all that other stuff you used to do.  There is no time for it and besides, nobody but you reads this blog anyway.  All you need it to do is be a reference to books you have read which was your very original intention.  So knock it all off with thin king  that someday you will get around to it.  "  And so today here are the rest of my reads from 2014 and  2015, with exception of those books I have read on my Kindle.  Now I will get this stack into a box and donate them to  the local library book sale  The stack will be gone and will no longer bother me.   I  had scanned the photos here but no others and now I am anto my next project, most of which involve  physical activity outdoors. 
Author                                          Title                                       Brief and  rating

Elizabeth George                           For the Sake of Elena                     This is the most different take  by George who is a go to favorite writer of mine for plot and character.    The tales are British and always an intriguing read.  Several others by this author sit on  my to read shelf.  Each summer try to get to at least one and so far 2015 hasn't had it's George read, yet.     4 ****

Elizabeth  George                    Payment in Blood                     Another inspector Lynley adventure.  Great character, plot and British wit.    Pg 195, "..reveal a face upon which grief played subtly, the way it often does when an initial shock has been lived through an the immensity of a loss begins to be measured against the endlessness of time."                                              5 *****

Vince Flynn                          Memorial Day                   Always the intrigue in these action espionage books by a now deceased and  thereby lost author who I really will miss more  and more.  He was a master of the thrill, terrorist, action, espionage genre with his main character, Mitch Rapp,  who rivals Jack Bauer from the former tv series  24.    This quote in dealing with terrorists, is a philosophy I would like to see adopted today in our so lenient system.  Pg 25  "...Rapp simply wanted to hunt them down and put a bullet in each ofe of their heads.....expediency saved lives...."                           5 *****

Edward Rutherfurd             The Forest                          Excellent saga of historical fiction by a revered author who blends history and characters over centuries and weaves the tales by interrelating all the  lineages.  He was recommended to me a couple years ago when we were in Alaska, I don't know  how I missed this author.  Thoroughly enjoyed following and losing myself in this tale.  Will find more of his works, similar to Ken Follett or perhaps Follet used Rutherfurd as his model.                                           5 *****

Jodi Picoult              The Storyteller                 Some contradicting historical references, trudged through reading this, but  read it along with another book and did set  it aside many times.  It’s barely  OK, a fictional episode, there are no surprises for anyone who has read or studied history extensively.  Sent to me by a friend, else I would not have purchased anything by this prolific writer, I am more selective.                      2**

Barrbara Martin,                     When the East Wind Blows         Purchased Feb 2015 in Leesburg FL from the author, whom I met at a craft show.  This is  her mother’s story of growing up in Nazi Germany, her escape, her survival.    Very good biography    Nothing new in the history or the atrocities, but I enjoy meeting authors.       3 ½ ***


Lewellen Povich       From Pigtails to Chin Hairs         The biggest purchase mistake I have ever made on Amazon and proof that I am better off to scan a book before buying.  I barely could stand to read 20 pages.  So trite repetitive, the title is far better than the book  and shows what happens when you fish blindly often.  As if I don't have so much more to read.   Not worth the money or  any rating, buyer beware.                       No stars

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Reads from 2014 and early 2015 Part 1

A stack of books to be donated to the local library book sale has been alongside  my computer and growing since March 2015 when we returned from our snowbird travels south the past winter.  I have been playing catch up with  multiple obligations and activities including financial analyses of our investments, tracking and data entering,  home activities, social, medical appointments, lots of things and now with springtime in full force, the outside beckons, no demands my attention.  So rather than looking at this box of books for months longer, I  will list each here and skip  scanning and reviews for the most part.  I am doing so in two phases as time is limited this morning again.   Once again, all my intentions to blog about my reads takes a backseat to lifestyle shifts and changes and to repeat a phrase that runs freely across my mind, where does all the time go?   I once envisioned retirement as sitting and reading several hours a day, I now spend only a mere hour or so  evenings before going to bed, reading.  I am far too busy with physical activities all day long to sit still and read, plenty of time for that when I become feeble, elderly, or perhaps plain lazy. My lifelong habit and love of reading remains but the stillness it requires doesn't suit me. Nowadays, sitting is dangerous to health, viewed as the new smoking, to be avoided physical activity is preferred.  This suits me fine as I have had 2 speeds all my life, on or off. I was called "Miss Antsy-pants as a child because I could not sit still for long, "what are we going to do now?" was my constant refrain if I was not on the move and in perpetual motion. Now years down the road all my activity was a good thing, healthful, so sitting and reading through the day is just not part of my retirement. Evidence here on this neglected book blog as well as on my other blog a;so neglected with no posting since February.  The shift to Facebook a more convenient outlet, where the whims of my mind are documented with photos and phrases of the moment.   Here is my  reading book list:

Title, author, date published, my star rating,  comments:

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid             Bill Bryson   2006    *****  One of the funniest books I have ever read, a partial memoir of the author's times growing up in the middle of the country, Des Moines, Iowa.  Beyond witty it is laugh out loud as his escapades and those of the boys in  a time of life I recall, rival Mark Twain's fictional Huck Finn. 

Masie Dobbs     and    Birds of a Feather        Jacqueline Winspear  2003 and 2004
A  two novel set in one book,  ****   I had read Masie, the first in this London post WWI era female sleuth series.  Because it was in this book I reread it, recalling some  activities but refreshing myself on her establishment as a private detective.  The Masie books are delightful mysteries,.  Nothing mysteriously circular nor  quizzical but easy enjoyable reading. 

Orphan Train                          Christina Bakker Kline           2013            ****    A fictional portrayal of characters in events that actually  occurred between 1854 and  1929 in the US when children were abandoned or given up to orphanages by immigrants or poor  parents, or by life tragedies.  I was interested in this because my genealogical research indicates my late Uncle John's father was adopted from similar circumstances.  It was not an easy life for the book's characters and the resiliency of human spirit can triumph.  

The Christmas Train       David Baldacci        2002   ****     A Baldacci fictional story, rather touching in parts but trite.  Simple reading.  The cross country winter train adventure of Tom Langdon, a mixed up globetrotting journalist. who must take thrain cross country from Washington DC to Los Angeles.  Some good lines as in any Baldacci book  as pg. 3, "being an only child he was truly alone now and that made him introspective:, or pg. 11, "I say that your  family  is where you find it."  pages 121-122, "Oh sure, if you're into the destination only as opposed to the trip itself.....most folk who ride trains could care less where they're going.  For them it's the journey itself and the people they meet along the way.....shouldn't there be room for a  train where you can just sit back, take a breath and be human for a little while?  Just a little while,?  Is that so bad?"        

The Forgotten        David Baldacci                 2012                       *****   Another great well developed thriller by this prolific author  about Army Special Agent John Puller who become key in an investigation into his aunt's death in Paradise Florida along the Gulf Coast, an area  with which we are  very familiar in our winter travels. Typical Baldacci the hints of the tale are set out very early for the astute reader, but only by the end of the book is the hint clearer.  For example, page 5, "They were not rich.  They were not powerful.  They were truly the forgotten.  And their numbers were growing exponentially as the world was settling swiftly into a permanent state of  the rich and thus powerful and then everyone else."