Wednesday, February 24, 2016

2 more duds from last year

I tried and set these aside but I will not finish reading either so only formy own documentation and later reference, I include  "Star of the Sea" and "Scandalmonger" here.  
Back cover

I see by my note inside that I attempted to first read Star of the Sea January 14, 2015, and after repeated efforts I give up on page 136 of it's 401 pages.  A friend sent this one to me and it sounded interesting about the Irish migration in 1847.  Although this has a Reading Guide for Book club discussions, it never kept my attention.  The Star of the Sea is the ship on which the characters are sailing along with a killer who stalks the decks searching for vengeance according to the back cover.  A mystery in combination with historical fiction could be intriguing.  The sketches and settings are interesting along with quotes here and there from London, Ireland and the American abroad.  The chapters titles are appealing; it begins with a prologue, "The Monster"  The very first sentence, "All night long he would walk the ship, from bow to stern, from dusk until quarterlight, that sticklike limping man from Connemara with the drooping shoulders and ash coloured clothes."    .In that same opening chapter, page xiv,  "The sailors sometimes wondered if the Ghost's nightly ritual was a religious observance or exotic self punishment such as the Catholics of Ireland were whispered to favour. A mortification perhaps for some unspeakable transgression...."   Notice the British (should I say Irish?)  spellings and sense of intrigue.  But the story drags, never gets off the duff.  The  characters wander back and forth, nothing happens, slow, tedium.  Apparently this man dubbed the "ghost" by the sailors is in the steerage compartments, is he the killer, I will never know.  I just could not keep plodding along.  Written and published in 2002, I understand it is a difficult book to find, so perhaps my donation to our library book sale will benefit someone else.  

The second dud, all of my own choosing at a book sale is "Scandalmonger" by William Safire, published in 2000, and a New York Times Notable book of the year winner., 430 pages, followed by a 12 page Epilogue documenting what happened to the various historical characters appearing in the novel,  and 51 pages of notes which are very detailed history and information.  This sounded like just my kind of book, well researched by a respected author, but another selection that I repeatedly sat aside, returned to from time to time when I finished reading another book or two and finally gave up  at page 103.  The novel  was alluring with  various chapter headed about Scandals in colonial times, involving Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and so many other historical men and women.  An opening page, "note to the Reader" begins, "The reader of historical fiction wonders, "What's true and what's not?"  As docudramas blur the line between fact and fiction, the reader is entitled to know what is history and what is twistery....."  The novel opens December 17,1792 in Philadelphia with "Prologue."  "The man now in jail who got me into all this trouble says he has enough on the Treasury Secretary to hang him."  The note from his former clerk startled Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg, .....,"the member of Congress from Pennsylvania--about to begin his second trm as Speaker of the House of Representatives read on: Reynolds claims to have proof showing that Hamilton secretly engaged in speculation in government securities..  Alexander Hamilton corrupt?"  So the opening stirred my curiosity and reflection how yes, political scandals have always been with us.  The author states that  quotations of Jefferson, Washington and Madison are almost verbatim.  Chapter 8 opens with a  sketch of the "Congressional Pugilists" Lyon vs. Griswold in 1798 depicting the intense argument where Matthew Lyon, an Irishman spit at Griswold and anti immigrant sentiments made others squirm.  I have to admit, it must have been quite a scene and perhaps such vociferous expression shows how far we have come in manners, or have we?

Page 88 has an interesting observation, "Even if Hamilton is telling the truth about his financial purity and I presume he is, a claim of sexual immorality is no defense.  Adultery is just a different manifestation of dishonesty."  Yes there are many similarities with politicians of today with the scandals abounding in this novel.  The writing is very good, of course for someone of Safire's stature as an author,  that is expected. However, I could not continue to read anymore of this tale.  I was fascinated by some words that are no longer used today.  Page 446, explains "contemelious"  I learned this archaic word  was a favorite Hamilton synonym for slanderous and "flagitious for villainous.  Some anachronisms have lasted through time,  such as "boozy and tipsy."  Nevertheless this book returns to the collection I will donate to our next month's local Library book sale.  

Both books prove that old adage, you cannot judge a book by it's cover.    

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Most boring book read in 2015

This was the most boring book I nearly finished reading in 2015 and am just now posting.  A friend had sent it to me because she knows I enjoy history and mysteries and she thought, Californian that she is, I might enjoy reading about MN where we now live. It sounded like some local history with the murder mystery catching my eye and in paperback 289 pages, published by Beaver's Pond Press, a first printing edition from 2013, it held promise which quickly turned into a false one.  It is about the September 27, 1839 grisly discovery of the corpse of Sgt. John Hays by some Dakota Indian boys along the Mississippi River about seven miles downstream from Ft. Snelling.  The area is near an ancient Indian landmark, Carver's Cave.    Hays had been a popular soldier who had disappeared 21 days earlier and had shared his cabin with his business partner Edward Phelen or also spelled Phalen.  Phalen was an unlikeable sort and from the information friendless and most unfriendly.  Sounds interesting, but the writing is not.  Apparently the author,  amassed a collection of material about this unsolved murder although  Phalen was arrested and charged with the murder.  Perhaps the book could have been interesting if he had collaborated with a writer or simply given the material and his thoughts to an author.  As written it is boringly repetitive.  There are interesting quotes here and there such s page 121 where the author shows his research and further information referencing Winston Churchill, ""a riddle wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."  From the beginning the author admits the murder is unsolved and yet he spends page after page with his thoughts about "who done it" or what else I'm not sure.  I give this book 2 ** and that is a stretch.  It goes into the donation pile. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

I was Born Under a Spruce Tree by J J Van Biber

I purchased this book in Dawson City, in the Klondike Yukon territory August 17, 2013 on our trip to Alaska.  I had taken the day off away from the tour we were on and wandered around Dawson, which I prefer to being herded.  There in the local drugstore I met the author and two sisters, Pat Van Bibber, Lucy Sanderson and Kathleen Thorpe.  This book is a biography about their late brother JJVan Bibber.  I had heard about it on local news in Alaska and it is just the kind of activity I enjoy, meeting authors.  Kathleen is a famous local artist.  

This is an amazing paperback, only 147 pages but rife with history and photos  of the family.  It had been published only in 2012 and illustrated by a grandson, Shannon Van Bibber.  The grandchildren persuaded JJ to write down all the stories he had shared with them about his life in the 1920's growing up in Mica Creek, the 1940's with his marriage to Clara, the 1970's when he surveyed for the government.  These native peoples lived through and survived in a country known for wilderness.  The women were as hearty as the men to survive.  Each tale has it's own mystique and sense of wonder.  
Me standing behind Pat Van Bibber
Back cover

It was beyond delightful to talk with these people.  Pat took an instant shine to me because he said, "you Pat, I Pat.  Good name."  With help from an anthropology student from the University of Alberta, Niall Fink, JJ talked about his life."They're making a book about me.  Yeah.  It is going in all the schools so the kids can learn about how we lived in the old days.  They call it oral history. "  Page 3,JJ's introduction.    Born in 1920 and whether or not under a spruce tree might be questioned, he led a fascinating life setting trap lines, building moose skin boats, playing the harmonica, . His father was a white settler who came to the Klondike from West Virginia  in the Gold Rush and married his mother Eliza who was born in the 1880's.  Page 9, "My mother was an Indian, you see.  She could talk both languages.  I don't know how she did it but she could talk to Indians around Stewart River at Dawson and they talked different languages altogether.  She knew Tlingit too.  Her mother was married to Chief Jackson, from around Juneau."  It is beyond intriguing to read how they went away to school, as very young tots, really away, down river and had to stay until the end of school term, away from their families.  Pat was 92 when I met him and sharp but tired.  This last photo shows me with the family.  This is a 5 ***** book.  


Killing Reagan by Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard

The latest book in author OReilly's Killing series and to me it was the least interesting.  A friend passed this one along to me, so I was spared wasting any money on its purchase.  It appears to be a collection or rather a smattering of all sorts of miscellaneous information gathered by the authors and pages are consumed with this ranging from sagas about Jimmy Carter, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford and more.  I am unsure if I disliked this book because of all the extraneous smatterings or if it is because so much of this history is current to me having lived through it all.  I really do not understand how they could have written this book without interviewing contemporaries of Reagan's like  Edwin Meese or others.  At only 283 pages it is a quick easy read but rambling.  If this is the best they can do, perhaps it's past time to move on from the niche of their Killing books and find another title, "Smatterings About and Beyond...."  whoever is my suggestion.  There has been controversy about this book, that it demeans Reagan.  I did not find that so much as I just became very tired of all the asides here and there,  It is nice that it is dedicated to caretakers as that is how Nancy spent the last many years.  It was an attempt to fill a book with tidbits. 

Rating it only 3 *** and that's generous.  I read this last year, 2015, but just now documenting it for this blog. 

One of many reviews copied and attached here from USA Today October 2015 by Ray Locker as well as a link to that article.