Monday, October 17, 2011

Garden of Beasts by Jeffery Deaver

Garden of Beasts

This was an entertaining, historical fictional page turner that took me into the world of Nazi Germany's 1936 Berlin during the Olympics.  This exciting read is told from the viewpoint of an American assassin, Paul Schumann, who has been promised forgiveness from his mob assassinations by the US if he will kill one of the (fictional) Nazi leaders, Reinhard Ernst, for the Department of the Navy. 
This story is told in a time before World War II, when Hitler was attempting to form his conquering armies in spite of the Treaty of Versailles where Germany agreed (well, by a twist of arm, they lost WWI) that not only did they cause WWI but they agreed to have an extremely limited military.  Deaver created a work of art, not telling, but showing the reader the mood of Berlin, where everyday Germans were terrorized by government thugs known as "Brownshirts", or the SA. Jewish shop owners are attacked, and worse....

He wrote his story, alternating between the viewpoints of diverse characters.  Our hero, Paul Schumann, is busy negotiating Berlin's underground, trying to figure out how to get a bullet through Ernst.  Ernst is busy successfully surviving the hostile politics of Hitler, Goering (head of SS) and Goebbels (minister of propaganda).  Kohl of the Berlin Police (known as Kripo) is on Paul's trail for a murder he did not commit.  One can only hope that Paul gets Ernst before Kohl catches Paul.

The story was totally fun, deep in history, and has many discussion points.  I would recommend this book for discussion.

One curious thing is that there is another book titled In the Garden of Beasts written by Eric Larson.  This book was chosen by my book club, and I accidentally picked up the wrong book.  They were both about Nazi Berlin, but In the Garden of Beasts was not fictional, and was set in 1933.Though I haven't read the one I was "supposed" to read, after our reading group meeting, I'm convinced I had a lot more fun reading this book! No complaints here!  Many complaints from others regarding In the Garden of Beasts.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Read this book, and you will visit this sad, lonely group of people, living in a economically depressed town in the South, during the Great Depression, during a time of racial injustice, hunger for many, and yes, lack of health care. 

I think if you would like to appreciate how wonderful it is to live in our current Great Recession, you should read this book.  In the 1930's, lack of health care meant that there was no hospital that would save you; no doctor to see if you didn't have the money.  Hunger was not relieved by food stamps.  Jobs were scarce.   Life was tough.

This novel is centered around five main characters.  Four of the characters are strongly passionate about their aspirations.  There is the old black Dr. Copeland who believes in Marxism, the young Mick Kelly who wants to compose music, crazy Jake Blout who wants to teach people about economic injustice in America, and Biff Branon who through a true love for his fellow man wants to ease suffering.  These characters all gather around their friend, deaf-mute John Singer, of whom each believes he understands their passions.  He doesn't.  As you read this book, you believe that each of their aspirations can be obtained.  In the end, McClullers crashes this, and doesn't give us much hope for any of her characters in this novel.  It is surprisingly entertaining for a novel with about zero plot, though one could argue that there are five strong subplots.  Each subplot tells a sad story through a purposeful character.

This is an Oprah Book Club book, the perfect place to find every sort of human misery put into literature.  The stories of the five main characters are told to make, what I think, is a point that we are basically inconsequential, sad creatures who struggle in a horrible world.

The following is referring to Biff, the do-good er and owner of an all night cafe.

"For in a swift radiance of illumination he saw a glimpse of human struggle and of valor.  Of the endless fluid passage of humanity through endless time.  And of those who labor and of those who .. love.  His soul expanded.  ... Between the two worlds he was suspended.. The left eye delved narrowly into the past while the right gazed wide and affrighted into a future of blackness, error and ruin"

I think I'll throw myself off a bridge now.  Nah, maybe just have a glass of wine to kill the pain.

Yes, this book is a masterpiece.  It is well written, makes you care about the rich characters, has a point, keeps you interested and turning pages as the motivations and horrendous problems are laid out on these pages.  It would make a great discussion book.  However, for a book club pick, my personal preference would be for something with more hope and fun.

I would like to recommend To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee as an alternative.

To Kill a Mockingbird

Readers, do you know of a great book, set in depression era America, that leads you with more hope that you would recommend?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Retired Math Professor Breaking Bad! Pot Trafficking, Explosions, Guns, Hookers, Prison!

As a new-bee first semester University of New Mexico student, 17 years old and terrified of Calculus I and the thick 1000 paged text book, I watched in trepidation as this tall, long haired, blue jeaned, leather booted professor sauntered into the classroom.  This was a time where calculators were most likely pencils or slide rules, Mitchell Hall (one of the classroom buildings) wasn't wired and punch cards were used to communicate with computers.  I watched, as he slowly paced cat like, from one side of the room to the other, occasionally licking his lips, obviously in deep thought (one could only hope it wasn't because he was hungry for Freshmen).

Picking up a piece of chalk, we all watched in anticipation of a complex formula, or convoluted Mathematical idea that would cause us to rush to the registrars afterwards to find a new section, or perhaps change our major (what good is engineering anyway?).  Turning to face us before writing, he most seriously stated "This is a very important book that everyone here should read".  Our hearts expired, please not another book we thought.  Back to the board he wrote, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."  Smiling, we knew this would be an interesting math class, and he did not disappoint us.

I have to confess, I haven't read that book, and he still passed me onto Calculus II.  But, what I did read was his 2005 self published book, "The Golden Years of Jess Martin". I loved it, but then I always liked listening to Jeff talk, and his voice in the book is the same as his voice in person.

I read this book in 2008, so I will not review this from my memory.  Instead, I will copy the review I wrote back in 2008 from Amazon.  However, separate from that review, I recall that it got really wild and crazy, and I've always wondered if the fictional blowing up of the humanities building (that is the building where the Math department used to live) had a deeper meaning.  The end of the book didn't hold together as well for me as the first half, though the whole book was really fun to read.

This would not make a good book club discussion book, but is a dirtier, lighter "escape from reality" book to read.

So, here is the Amazon review (dang it, the Amazon criminals won't let me copy and paste it, so here is a retype):

This was an extremely entertaining book, fast paced, unpredictable, with great characters. The characterization of Jess and the people he deals with was realistic;  written by an author who understands people and their motivations.  You will even find yourself having sympathy for a double crossing hooker!

This was similar to Breaking Bad, a new cable series, but where the chemistry teacher (turned bad) uses chemicals to solve his drug business complications, Jess uses mathematical logic that has tastes of higher level thinking to conquer the messes that go hand in hand with pot trafficking.

I found the settings of a prison in CA, the bar and society in Southern NM near the Mexican border well described and interesting.  I only wish Jess could have retained some of his innocence, as I really liked the character who was a newbie, but after enough time in the business, it just wasn't possible.

I think the best thing about this book was that I couldn't predict what was going to happen next.  I am hoping for a sequel.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver

The Poisonwood Bible
The Poisonwood Bible is a great discussion book.  It is well written, interestingly set in the Belgian Congo before, during and after the transition from a Belgian territory to a dictatorship when the country was lead by a self serving ruthless dictator, Mubutu and became known as Zaire.  The tale of this countries' people was spun using a fundamentalist baptist missionary family's struggles in a primitive village, Kilanga.

A sad event is foretold in the first chapter of the book.  The story then proceeds in the first person, told from family members, Orleanna Price and her four daughters, weaving you along subplots. All paths lead you to the sad event that will ruin everyone's lives.  This book is read the way one gawks at a car accident inclusive of twitching body parts, fire and blood.  The story spans their lives starting with their pilgrimage to the Congo as a young family in 1959.  It is interesting that there is no chapter where we hear the story told by Nathan, the father.

This was an exciting book filled with life and death moments. Learning about the hardships of surviving in Africa helps to broaden one's view of the importance of things American's take for granted, such as not being killed by the local wildlife and having not just good food to eat but enough food to eat.

It is a great book, so why should I follow this with more to be said?  To not mince words, this book was godless.  Well, perhaps worse than godless. Kingsolver needs to be certain that she has chosen the right side of the good and evil, believer and nonbeliever fence, as she has certainly taken sides.  I think that the true point of this book is to convey her idea that the missionaries in Africa are the real sinners.  That there is no God, the only salvation in life is ourselves, and forgiveness even from the regrets we experience in our own lives is only attainable through our own resolve to forgive ourselves.  With this is revealed the life of the true Atheist.  "The teeth at your bones are your own, the hunger is yours, forgiveness is ours." 

Why did she call this the Poisonwood Bible?  Only Kingsolver knows for sure, but I'll take a guess at this.  The poisonwood tree in the Congo is a pretty nasty tree that causes one to break out in horrible painful boils.  The Bible is a book of truth, when crossed by a poisonwood tree causes something quite horrible as per her tale.

Kingsolver makes it clear that the missionary work by the main character in this book, Nathan Price, was a horrible sin against the Congolese people. Granted, Nathan was a twit.  He was inflexible in light of incredible African diversity, making him truly horrible at communicating God's love to these people. At the end of each of his church services, he says "Tata Jesus is bangala", where the word bangala can mean precious but can also mean poisonwood, Kingsolver's joke on Nathan.

I've no doubt that there were many missionaries like him with good intentions of sharing their beliefs with other people but insensitive to the culture of the communities.  However, I believe God to be kind and loving of his creation (one caveat, this doesn't mean that we will not suffer and die, as this is part of our biological existence).  The belief in God's condemnation based on the fact you may be born in Africa instead of a Christian community somewhere else is clearly nonsense. God is greater than our own biblical interpretation, and the belief that God loves all of us, that God is faithful and that only God can judge is my foundation.  I see no reason that Kingsolver found the need to crucify God based on some men's narrow interpretation of the bible.

So, in that light, I found the book without soul.  However, Kingsolver is truly a Queen of writers.  My favorite book of hers is Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a true tale of family gardening.
Animal Vegetable Miracle

Friday, September 2, 2011

How to make a crossword puzzle, and solution for Tiffany's Turn of the Century New York

Hi all.  Here are the solutions for the puzzle.  It was fun to make, and I hope it was fun to do too.  Though, I have to admit, I would have to use Google for a few of the entries (and I used Google to come up with a few of the entries).  Also, it took quite some time, but I figure anything worth anything will take some time to do.

One puzzle about making this puzzle was to figure out how to do this on the computer.  So, since this in itself was a puzzle, I will also tell you about my solution!  I'll say, if anyone has some shortcuts to this, I'm game, but my rule is that it can't include software that costs money.  That will make this puzzle too easy.
First, I started with a web site that gave me a starting point for the puzzle.  I gave the site 20 words, and it fit 17 of them together and gave me a pretty bad puzzle.  That is, there were few words that had more than one connection to another word.  This is the site that I used, which by the way, I think is a pretty good site:

Next, I printed this out and thought about some more words that would fit the puzzle theme.  I drew on the picture by hand until I had fit in quite a few theme words.  But, still I needed more connection words to make the puzzle good.

Step three was another website that was great for finding those connections words.  This site allows you to search for dictionary words of a certain length that have your special characters in the right place.  For example, you can type in h**p and it will return all the words that match this pattern, say harp, hasp, heap, help, etc....  This site is as follows:

OK, so now I had my answer sheet.  Next, I created a table in Open Office and made it look like a grid.  I figured out how to superscript characters so I could type my number 1., 2., etc to identify rows and columns.  I created the clues, colored all unused squares so it looked nice, and I have to say this was full of errors and took a very long time.  I could see how puzzle software would be a good tool to have at this point.

Then, the last problem was how to share this.  I use a Mac, so had no problem saving pages in pdf format.  You can select this option whenever you print a page.  Then, my Mac pdf reader allowed me to save in jpg format, which is what is posted below.  Total software cost - $0.00.  Total time cost - ridiculous.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

As our book club organizer and lover of books, The Help by Kathryn Stockett hit the top of my list for the richest discussion book for our group in 2010.  I am glad it was made into a movie for all those souls who don't or won't read the book, but I just can't imagine that the movie could be better than the book.  On the other hand, I will never be able to judge because I've read the book and all the suspense and surprises have been reveled to me.

This great book is extraordinarily rich in character development, with a width of characters spanning black and white, caring and deviously racist, selfless and self serving, all working to spin Stockett's tale about a young journalist, Skeeter, who is writing an undercover story about the maids in Jackson Mississippi in the early 1960's.  Skeeter's story is great, but the stories about the maids are real page turners. I can't recommend this book enough. 

This is a setting and era that many of us need to be reminded of with a clear nonprejudicial mind.  Though this is a story taking part in the historical era of Jim Crow Laws, at a time where many white people believed with all their hearts that black people were less intelligent, and not deserving of simple human considerations (such as using the same toilet as they, or drinking from the same water fountain, or sitting in an adjacent bus seat), we need to also be understanding to the era of ignorance.  However, I can't seem to extend any amount of understanding to some of the hateful destructive women in this novel.

Many white people did not know better, just as many people today are victims of their own background and ignorance.  We can move these issues to the year 2011, where this is not a white problem, but a problem that spans races.  It is a problem of poor education, socio-economic challenges and deep cultural prejudice.  Today, "The Help" comes in many shades of colors, so we should take a lesson of humanity away from this book.  In other words, we are all human and deserve to be treated as such.

I have discussed one of many issues touched in this book.  However, read this book and you will have incredible diverse discussion material.  Read this and you won't be able to put it down.  This book will always have a place in my private library.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Turn of the Century New York City Crossword Puzzle for you!

Hi there book friends!  I've worked super hard, and made a crossword puzzle based on the book Clara and Mr. Tiffany written by Susan Vreeland.  The puzzle keeps with the theme of 1900's New York City.  It was a lot of fun to make, but more work than I thought!  I will post the answer key in around a week.

I would use google to help with some of the answers (esp if you didn't read the book).   Not all clues are applicable to the book, but they keep in the theme.

If you would like a pdf version, email me and I will be happy to send that to you. At this time, I do not have a link to this file that you can download ;-(

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Destruction, Disaster, Armageddon, No Hope At All!

That is my summary of this book!  Before I go and say some good things about The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, I would like to make a definite statement that this would not be a good book club read - at least not the kind of book club I would like to enjoy, where the novel is considered a work of art that has the ability to help enhance and understand our own lives through member relationships and discussion. 

First, it was well written, set in a rural Wisconsin dog breeding and training farm.  Nice, right?  Then, let us make this even more interesting with great and unusual characters.  As this 560 page novel worms its way into the reader's life, he/she learns to care for these wonderful characters.  The most interesting is Edgar, a mute boy who is quite literate in writing and signing.  Almondine, Edgar's closest friend and canine nurse maid, has a true voice in the story.  There are other interesting dogs and Edgar's caring parents, Trudy and Gar.  Time is spent developing the history of the family and the farm.  Wroblewski even gives us a great plot with the addition of a villain, Uncle Claude!  All these pieces make a wonderful story.

Now, let me explain why this book ticked me off so much.  In the last chapter, he totally ruins his plot, the tale's mood, and any hope for any of the characters. I would never suggest to an author that his ending should change.  After all, this is fiction, the authors slate, to do with as he pleases.  Frankly though, I feel betrayed by this book's ending, to the point that twenty years from now, if I have the pleasure of still being part of the human race, I will remember the horrible ending to this book - it was that dramatic.  I will never again read another book by Wroblewski.  Others can enjoy his art, and then see him throw a stinky dog turd right into the middle of the Mona Lisa.  Crap.  I won't make the same mistake twice.

Since this blog is about good books to read, I would like to suggest Watership Down.  This classic book, published in 1972, is an excellent read about talking rabbits who have been displaced from their warren by a farmer.  This novel is totally worth the 608 page reader investment.  It is a classic that can be reread with great pleasure.  So, readers, spend your time reading something that is truly a great book.  Though talking rabbits sounds crazy, the book is really about human nature and ethics and is enjoyable for adults as well as high school students.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

New York City Fiction, Love, War, Magic and Guts

Hamill's entertaining novel, Forever,  delves into the history of New York City starting in 1740 and concluding with the fateful day of 9-11-2011.

To show us the history of the city, Hamill most cleverly created an immortal Irish character, Cormac O'Connor.  The story starts in Ireland where Cormac is a child living under English Protestant rule, but secretly schooled in the Gaelic religion.  This part of the book was absolutely fascinating, taking me into a world I have never read of before this time.  Cormac comes to New York City, and at that time is granted eternal life provided he does not leave Manhattan.  This contrived situation acts as a great setting for the author to share the history of New York City with his readers.

This book was imaginatively constructed, entertaining and educational.  Hamill wove his tale with care.  It was quite fun to be introduced in a fictional setting to indentured slavery, the black slave trade, the American Revolution, the cholera epidemic, Boss Tweed and his group of faithful political crooks and even more.  The book seemed a bit choppy as it went from one sub plot to the next, with the setting moving forward in time often in great leaps and bounds, but if viewed as a collection of time glimpses into NYC, it was quite nice.

Other acclaimed books he has written that aren't quite such a reading commitment (this was a 640 pager) are A Drinking Life and Snow in August, though he has twenty books under his hat! Snow in August would be my choice for a good reading group discussion book due to its length and clearer material focus (as opposed to Forever which was focused on the history of NYC, and took forever to read!). Set in post WWII Brooklyn, this coming of age novel is rich with moral, racial and ethic issues as the relationship between an Irish Catholic boy and a Rabbi are developed into a tale. 

Hamill has a nice web site,, where you can catch some video and get to know a little more about this prolific author and his latest works. He knows NYC, and writes about what he knows!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Women, Stand Up for the Right to Work! Fired When Married!

This book completed with a bang.  Vreeland's Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel finally brought some historical excitement into her tale in the last third of the book where, finally, the historical woman's right to work issue was addressed!

"It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union.... Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less"  Susan B. Anthony

Our book meeting revealed that I was not the only person that felt that Vreeland may not have researched the common Victorian behavior in the early 1900's with respect to Clara's character.  We questioned such actions such as:
  • Would it be considered proper in a boarding house to have men come in and sit on your bed? 
  •      Is it OK to keep the company of men without an escort?
  •      Is it OK to retire to bed with a man in your bedroom?
  •      Is it OK to spend the weekend at a beech house with your male and female friends?
    Vreeland painted Clara as a very discrete and proper lady, which seemed to be at odds with some of her behavior in the novel.

    The end of the book concluded with some meaty topics that were presented beautifully.   I wish these topics such as the relationship between unions, business and woman's work rights with supporting historical stories would have been described throughout the book rather than concentrated at the end of the tale.

    The author did an awesome job describing the struggles of the immigrants.  Most everyone enjoyed the historical setting and the sprinkling of American history in the telling of the story.  We had an interesting discussion with respect to the male/female love relationship within the workplace which is as applicable then as it is now, as often married employees find themselves attracted to coworkers.

    Though not the best book of the year, it was an enjoyable book club read, and lead to a pleasant discussion.

    Tuesday, July 19, 2011

    Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Susan Vreeland

    We are going to meet on Saturday to discuss this book, and I wanted to solicit opinions.  I am looking forward to seeing the Tiffany exhibit at the museum.  Matter of fact, I think that it will be awesome, and I praise the book club member who came up with that idea!

    First, for anyone who needs to catch up, this is a fictional account of Clara Driscoll who was director of the Tiffany Studios' Women's Glass Cutting Department in New York City around the turn of the century. Clara and her team of women chose the colors and type of glass to be used in the studios' famous glass items.  Women did not have the right to join the union, and were fired if they married, making this era interesting to discuss.  This well written book is a comfortable trip into Clara's life.

    I am still reading this, but should be finished by Saturday.  So far, I am finding this OK, but not compelling to read.  Granted, it is historical fiction, but it isn't thick with plot, which is why it is a bit slow for me.  Pretty much, I'm seeing Clara seeing color and beauty in something, and then translating the art into glass as she matures one chapter at a time.  Her bohemian existence in a boarding house filled with other eccentrics and artists is interesting, but not compelling.  Discussion about women's issues will be interesting, but again, not page turning material.  The setting in the early 1900's is very attractive, but still, I'm not on the rail with this book (yet).

    So, what do you think?  I'll summarize comments if anyone wants to make any to share on Saturday.

    Later, K.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Unrequited Love, Mystery, Criminals, Hangings, 19th century London

    My great expectations, that is to read a great classic, have been dashed in the reading of Great Expectations, written by Charles Dickens.  This has been a CHORE to read, though not without humorous moments, surprising twists and amusing characters. Turns out, this soap opera like book was written in a series of short chapters to be published in serial form.  This restricted the writing of the tale to installments of "roughly thirty-two pages of fifty lines per page.  ... To achieve so many cliffhangers, plots had to be large and complex with a lot of action" (CliffNotes, Great Expectations by Debra Bailey, 2000 Wiley Publishing, Inc.).  

    Additionally, the writing style is difficult to adjust to, and many sentences remain undecyphered to me, usually referring to some context of the era.  However, after the first few chapters, it becomes quite readable with the understanding that some sentences one just stumbles over, yada yada yada,... even with footnotes.

    I do not recommend this book for a book club read.  It isn't without value, heavens knows it has been parsed and analyzed ad nauseam.  It is quite worthy a read in a study of Dickens, London in 1860, and the social problems of this time.  Many students are strong armed into reading this.  I'm sure they learned something; I did.  The setting is magnificent, and Charles Dickens spins a good tale. The bottom line for me was that it was interesting, but it just wasn't fun.  Perhaps if I was living in 1860 England, I would be first in line to buy the magazine containing the next chapter.  After all, I do like a good serial story (Dallas, Weeds, Breaking Bad, Dark Shadows, to name a few old and new). Alas, it is 2011, this isn't my language, and when put into a chapter/novel format, the connections between the characters are unbelievable.

    I would recommend watching the movie.  If you do want to read the book, it is available on-line for free at the Gutenberg Project.  I own the Penguin Classics edition, and would rather curl up with a book, carry it, eat lunch over it, and scribble notes than read it on-line.

    What did you think of this book?  I'm now off onto the book club discussion book, Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel.  Happy reading!  K.

    Thursday, June 30, 2011

    A Con Artist, Comedy, People Falling off of Towers, Clay Men with Firey Eyes, Pigeon Dung

    I stumbled upon this book at the library, and what a gem it is!  Going Postal written by Terry Pratchett is the 33rd of the Diskworld novels, and I know I will need to read some more!  I've not read fantasy for quite some time, but this is delightful.  The story is set in a mechanical world (Diskworld) with believable characters in an environment where magic, time warps, vampires, golems (clay men who never sleep and are programmed to serve) and more exist.  What really sold me on this book though was the humor, in site into human behavior, and a mechanical email system (called the Clacks).  The Clacks is a system where people relay twitter length messages across many miles across the Grand Trunk (in our world the Internet) by moving a mechanical bit flipper (states are on or off, binary code).  The people in the next clacks tower (in a high and dangerous position) visually pick up the message and relay it, and in that way the message travels, like the pony express galloping mail across the US.  There was even the concept of a Clacks virus (there is no equivalent for Norton anti-virus) along with hackers.

    I haven't stopped laughing.  Even the characters names are funny - lets see, Moist Von Lipwig (the protagonist and a very cunning con man, who is trying to make the post office 'work'), Adora Belle Dearheart (a smart woman whose kiss is like kissing an ashtray, who runs a golum rental service, and who Moist would like to date) Reacher Gilt (the bad guy and head of the Grand Trunk), Tolliver Groat (a hardworking postman who smells like cough medicines and old potatoes), and my favorite, Mr Pump (a clay man who is Moist's parole officer, but used to be a pump in a very deep well for many centuries).  Oh, and pigeons (and their dung) are prolific in the wreck of the post office, and there are other wonderful characters.

    The final treat is that there is a UK DVD series dramatized,   This is quite a fun web page to explore.   And now, a trailer so you can see first hand what a golum looks like!

    Thursday, June 23, 2011

    Suspense, Excitement, and Just A Little Bit Outrageous!

    That is what I want to read next!  Enough literature, it is time for drugs, sex and rock and roll!  So, I shall look at my stack.  I'm winding down on a delightful fantasy/science fiction book by Terry Pratchett,  Going Postal, and am (finally) almost finished with Dickens's soap opera like tale, Great Expectations (Penguin Classics),  which I would like to say is available for FREE download via the Gutenburg Project

    Every devoted reader has "the stack", that top heavy menagerie of books collected over many garage and library sales that beg to be read, but I'm wondering, what shall sate my mood....  What would your vote be?  Lets see, this is what I shall consider.  After spelunking through the book pile, I found the drugs, sex and rock and roll pickings slim, so perhaps Western vs Horror is the pick of the day.....

    Deadwood , a western based on Deadwood, Dakota Territories in 1876.  To quote the back of the book (recently bought at the Deadwood SD museum), "Legendary gunman Wild Bill Hickok and his friend Charley Utter have come to the Black Hills town of Deadwood fresh from Cheyenne, fleeing an ungrateful populace...."  That should be good for alcohol, sex, guns and murder...

    I found a Dean Koontz (a cleaner horror than the Steven King variety), By the Light of the Moon, collecting dust in the book case.  Koontz tends to focus his tales on good vs evil, where the good guys often include pets, children, a man and the woman he loves. Evil is chance, often of the science fiction flavor, and is always conquered in the end.  The stories don't require a lot of emotional expenditure on the part of the reader and are exciting to read.  So, I think the suspense and excitement will be rated high.  The cover states "... a novel of heart stopping suspense and transcendent beauty, of how evil can destroy us and love can redeem us..." 

    Lastly, Steven King's Dreamcatcher has been sitting in the book case unread, and I'm starting to see why.  The story takes us back to Derry, Main, where friends struggle with "a creature from another world where their only chance of survival is locked in their shared past..."  Sounds A LOT like It .  Now I know why I haven't picked this up in the last ten years it has been collecting dust.  It was a very long novel, that should have been told in around half of the pages it took King to spin.  Shall I risk boredom? 

    So, what do you think?  Which would you pick, or would you just go to the library and browse?

    Sunday, June 5, 2011

    Good Harbor, Anita Diamant

    Breast Cancer, The Virgin Mary, A Child's Death,  Illicit Love, A Female Rabii

    Some years back, our book club read and discussed The Red Tent, by Anita Diamant.  It was good, interesting story, fun to discuss, but not very memorable (the red tent was the holding place for menstruating Jewesses in the ancient days of the Old Testament) - or should I say I can't remember the story, so that means it wasn't memorable to me.

    This newer creation of Diamant, Good Harbor,  shows her maturation as an author.  The story is more like a walk in the everyday changing life of a middle aged women.  I can attest, what we have to go through is insane, everyone having difficult but separate problems that are so twisted that you can't share them with your spouse (umm, an affair would be an example), or your children and often not even your friends.  They eat away at you, bother you, and make you absolutely mad while you are trying to hold together your family and your own sanity. And, if you don't think your friends are having these problems, then you are just not telling you about them.

    Anita Diamant makes the best of this middle aged situation by weaving a dual female friendship into the everyday drama of two Jewish woman, Kathleen Levine and Joyce Tabachnik.  This is a good discussion book for middle aged female friends, probably not so great for the young woman who don't have a clue what being a middle aged mother is all about.  This book was not heavy in plot, but heavy in subplots.  It was more like a detailed painting of two woman's lives, beautifully done and easy to read.  I think the point is that woman need each other to survive middle life.

    As for the statue of the Virgin Mary, she too ties into this story.  I think she is the female friend that one of the less important characters needs to survive her own middle-motherhood, but that would be up to discussion.  So, what do you think this statue of the Virgin adds to the story?  Recall, this was a young Mary, solid in concrete and worshiped by a secret following.

    Well, to help you out, here is a link to a reading guide from one of my favorite book browse sites, but they totally missed the Virgin Mary question. 

    If you would like to learn more about Diamant, here is a link to her web page and a list of all of her books:
    She also has a blog.  You can view this by clicking here: 

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    The Lunatic Express and Some Recipies

    I do have to say, the Abes books blog is pretty great.  I don't know what following it has, but Richard Davies is a model blogger.  Here is the link:  He is short, sweet and interesting.

    So, back to book business, we meet and discussed The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World . . . via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes this weekend, and concluded that Carl Hoffman was a self centered skunk.  This conclusion was made without excessive adult beverage.  However, most everyone liked the book in spite of the authors disregard for caring for his family.  It certainly shed a lot of light on what a rich, luxurious life we all lead.

    The book that won our vote for next bookclub is  In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin.

    I have to say, the around the world theme for lunch was awesome.  In addition to the recipes below, there were lamb kabobs, fruit salad, some orange wine drink, Chinese chestnuts, tamales and probably some other yummy thing to eat that I'm not recalling.  Here is a smattering of some of our fare.  I have to say, these recipes were delicious.  Matter of fact, as I'm typing this, Wat is cooking away in my crock pot for this evenings meal!

    KHEER    Serves 4
    (Rice Pudding with Cardamon and Pistachios)             
    Rich, reduced-milk rice puddings are popular in many parts of India, under various names; kheer is most common.

    5 cups milk                                6-8 tbsp. sugar
    1/4 - 1/3 cup                             2 tbsp. shelled peeled
    basmati rice, rinsed                     pistachios, chopped
    6 cardamom pods                        1/4 tsp. rose flower

    1. Put milk, rice and cardamom into a medium pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring often, until milk has reduced by one-third, 15-20 minutes.

    2. Add sugar, 1 tbsp. of the pistachios and rose flower water and stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves, 1-2 minutes, then transfer to a bowl. Cover and refrigerate until well chilled. Discard cardamom pods.

    3. Finely chop the remaining nuts, Serve pudding in small bowls garnished with pistachios.

    I used almonds and a few raisins which I have seen used in this pudding in various Indian restaurants here. I prefer the flavor of the almonds with the sweet rice.


    A tasty combination of squash, yams, and coconut milk. Squash and yams are very common in Africa.

    one onion, chopped
    one pound squash, peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
    a pound or two of yams (sweet potatoes may be substituted), peeled and cut into bite-sized cubes
    one cup coconut milk
    one-half teaspoon ground cinnamon
    one quarter teaspoon ground cloves
    salt to taste

    Fry onion in skillet, stir and cook until tender. Stir in all other ingredients, and heat to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and stir occasionally. Cook until vegetables are tender (ten to fifteen minutes).

    Wat (Meat Stew), Ethiopia

    from Favorite Recipes from the United Nations, published by the United States Committee for the United Nations, Washington, D.C., 1956

    1/4 pound butter
    2 cup chopped onion
    1 cup water
    2 pounds boneless beef, lamb or veal (cut into 1-linch pieces)
    1 teaspoon salt
    1/8 teaspoon red pepper
    1 teaspoon black pepper
    1 tablespoon cornstarch
    1/2 cup cold water
    4 cup hot buttered noodles (optional)

    Melt half of butter in a heavy saucepan, add onions, and cook over medium heat until onions are soft.  Mix in remaining butter and water, and cook uncovered for 5 minutes.  Add meat and seasonings.  Cover pan and simmer mixture for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until meat is tender.  To thicken sauce blend 1 T of cornstarch with 1/4 cup cold water.  Add to hot stew and continue cooking, stirring constantly, for about 5 minutes.  This flavorful stew would be good served over cooked buttered noodles.  Crisp rolls, a green salad, fruit dessert, and beverage, would be a fine choice to complete the meal.  Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

    This recipe is verbatim from the cookbook.  This is what I did was:

    I used white onion, and cut up sirloin beef (super lean, as I cut out as much fat as possible) for the meat.  After making the onion mixture, I put everything in the crock pot around midnight, and it was ready seven hours later when I got up.  I thickened it with 2 T of cornstarch, and served it over boiled whole wheat noodles with no added butter.  I think it was really good, and will make it again.  Cooking the onions in butter and not browning the beef made it a little different.

    Saturday, May 21, 2011

    Three Books to Choose From

    Hi all.  Boy, am I glad to get rid of the lips background from last weeks blogging!  Good bye to that!

    One of my friends told me that I should have a great opening line to grab interest in hope of gaining readership, so in that spirit I'm taking on a chatty manner and giving you some headlines.  A. has chosen these books, and emailed me the Amazon descriptions.  Instead of reentering the descriptions, they are all here for you when you click on the book photos shown.  So, here are the choices.  You can email the vote to me, or vote at our meeting.

    The True Creator REVEALED! 

    Click on the adjacent link to Amazon, Clara and Mr. Tiffany written by Susan Vreeland, and you can read the book description, composed by the author herself, Susan Vreeland. She starts "For a century, everyone assumed that the iconic Tiffany lamps were conceived and designed by that American master of stained glass, Louis Comfort Tiffany. Not so! It was a woman! Aha!...."
    What makes this book interesting to me is the turn of the century setting.  I believe it will be a rich book to discuss on many different levels.  Women's rights stands out as a particularly interesting topic.  If chosen, we will also meet at the art museum preceding our lunch/discussion where we will view a display exactly on this topic.

    Simonson Debut Novel uncovers True Award Winning Talent! 

    True page-turner urgency 
    Amazon Best Book of the Month March 2010 
    Wry, yet optimistic comedy
    Enjoyable traipse through the English countryside
    OK, do I have your attention now?  Anyhow, this just sounds to me like a fun book to read.  Click adjacent on Major Pettigrew's Last Stand written by Helen Simonson and you will see the description A. shared.

    Ambassador Dodd's Daughter Involved in Nazi Scandels as the Ambassador Embraces Schmoozing with Nazis! 
    Ready for some intrigue?  I'm starting to think that In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson will be a great discussion book, historical, entertaining, and a political page-turner thriller.  This is the same author as Devil in the White City,  another book that is a great choice that is on my list of books that I really want to read, but alas, too many books, too little time.

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    The Third Angel, Alice Hoffman

    I chose this book simply because I am an Alice Hoffman fan.  Akin to Shakespeare, she writes the tragic love story;  the real to life story with no happily ever after endings; a love story that I can believe in.  She weaves magic with emotion, in a manner that is both touching and awesome.  The Third Angel wasn't heavily laden in magic, but Alice left her magical touch with a new idea that one could leave a partial ghost of oneself, lost in a tragic situation, without loosing ones' life.  Alice Hoffman knows how to take the supernatural to a level boarding on fantacy, but somehow believable to those who reach beyond the five senses.

    Her weaving of three love stories in different times with overlapping characters is a work of art, often leaving me with chills.  This book reflects a middle aged wisdom;  knowledge that can only be written after emotional payment.

    The worth of this book is in the story telling.  Most of the telling is set in London (1999, 1966 and 1952), which makes these tales quite colorful.  It was fun to read, though was a heart breaker at times.  This would make a good discussion book due to the quality, quantity (289 pages) and rich discussion points.  According to the story, there are three angels, the angel of death, the angel of life, and the angel that we can help. I would like to know, was Millie the rabbit the third angel in the third story?  I think so, but then, who was the third angel in the first and second stories? 

    Lastly, I would like to say that my two favorite Alice Hoffman books are Practical Magic (not deep, just totally fun, there is a movie too) and Here on Earth (awesome writing, Oprah liked it also).  However, I have not read all of her works. She is quite prolific, having written thirty books.  

    Thursday, April 28, 2011

    Water for Elephants

    This book is an historical love story set in a circus during the depression.  This is a very entertaining and suspenseful book to read.  Time traveling into a life where both human and animal life is cheep, the reader lives through Jacob, a young boy who in loosing everything, joins the traveling circus as a veterinarian (though he walked away from his final exams without answering a single question).   Not only is the setting great, but so in the character development (Rosie, the bull elephant, comes to mind) and the story.

    "The most interesting aspect of the book is all the circus lore that Gruen has so carefully researched. She has all the right vocabulary: grifters, roustabouts, workers, cooch tent, rubes, First of May, what the band plays when there's trouble, Jamaican ginger paralysis, life on a circus train, set-up and take-down, being run out of town by the "revenooers" or the cops, and losing all your hooch."

    Sara Gruen weaves this tale magnificently, varying between Jacob's current life in a nursing home and his youth where he is involved in a dangerous love affair with Marlena, a woman who rides the elephants and horses.

    This magnificent story has been made into a movie, though I would recommend reading the book first. 

    This would be an excellent book club discussion book, however you may find that among rabid readers that most of your group has already read this on their own.  For that reason, you may consider one of her newer books, Ape House: A NovelRiding Lessons: A Novel, or Flying Changes. Sara Gruen has a special understanding of animal/human relationships which is reflected in her writing.

    She has a particularly nice web site, with video included,  I liked watching the ape talk.  Check out the communication board used for conversations.

    Friday, April 22, 2011

    Harvest, Tess Gerritsen

    I just finished Harvest by Tess Gerritsen.

    There was one lead that said she rivaled Patricia Cornwell - an author who writes just a bit too much disgusting scenes in her stories for me. I put Cornwell on a don't read any more list - like Katherine seems to have done with Hill.

    But I thought I'd try this author.

    Rather good writing, I thought. Kept me going as a page turner. Not really everyone will relate, though. Beause I worked in a hospital for a number of years, I am sure I was identifying with the organ transplant issues - (slight) medical knowledge I have kept it provocativew.

    No way was this as forthright as a Cornwell book.

    Well, until she got to the page where she wove the story together and "spilled the beans" so to speak.

    Obviously I do not wish to spoil this for anyone who wants to read it - but it did get a bit over-the-top-bloody to finish up. Good writer that I observed her to be, she had the story played out with surprises Sherlock Holmes would be proud of.

    If you want a creative horror story about hospital transpant organ donor-recipient/doctor involvement, this is a page-turner full of suspense. If you don't like blood, or don't relate to docs on call till they drop, or a bloody OR, just pass it up.

    Thursday, April 21, 2011

    Heart-Shaped Box, Joe Hill

    I have to confess, I read around one third of this horror novel before putting it aside - permanently.  I was going to write about what a depraved book this was; how many suicides and senseless deaths were described in this book up to the point that I abandoned this read?  Lets see, I don't want to spoil this for you, but on the top of my head there is the bathtub suicide by razor, the accidental heroin OD, death by hanging, the snatched child never to be seen again, and the suicide of the mother of the guy who hung himself.  This book certainly horrifies me, and I have to wonder, why was this written?  What motivated the author to go into this dark place?  I'm not against a good scary ghost story, and have spent many a night reading Steven King novels, but if you want to read horror, I think that Dean Koontz or Neil Gaiman would be better choices, which is why I put a link to a great book (if you like the genre) by Gaiman, American Gods: A Novel.  This blog is about finding good books to read. 

    I found nothing positive to hang onto in The Heart-Shaped Box and I started to wonder, who the heck published this?  Much to my surprise, it was a popular publisher.  This book was on the New York Times best seller list!  The Amazon reviews are good.  It received rave reviews and was even named book of the year by the Atlanta magazine.  This guy, Joe Hill, has won awards for his writing.  He is a good writer!

    What does this mean?  I must ask myself, am I being narrow minded in my review?  Has society become depraved?  Is there something I'm missing here?

    The main character, Jude, is a middle aged rock star (retired since his band members died, not counted in previously listed tragedys), who buys a dead man's suit advertised to ship with a ghost, from an on line auction. The suit arrives in a heart shaped box, and the horror begins. The only thing I can find nice about Jude is that he likes his dogs. I found this premise for a story very compelling, which is why I picked this up at the library.

    Well, to close this, there are a few other things I discovered when searching the web for more information.  Heart-Shaped Box is a song, good music, depraved lyrics, by the American grunge band Nirvana, written by vocalist and guitarist Kurt Cobain.  Cobain committed suicide in 1994, and though I will not presume to guess that this could possibly have anything to do with ideas behind this book, it certainly is a coincidence.   The story is well written (at least one third of the way through), but I do not recommend this for a book club read, nor for anyone dealing with depression, nor really anyone.  It would be bad for your soul.

    Sunday, April 17, 2011

    Miscellaneous books in "tossed" pile

    Some miscellaneous books on a list of ones I tossed before completing. You could call these panned by me.
    Fannie Flagg Standing in the Rainbow. Known widely as the author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe: A Novel (a gem of a read and turned to a movie) and other such goodies as Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!: A Novel (Ballantine Reader's Circle) and Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man: A Novel this had review quotes like “Another surefire winner…” Sadly, not for me.
    After a snippy prologue, and expecting interesting characters to develop quickly, I was given simply a few snappy names (her Southern style and creativity are always to be admired for sure), long meandering paragraphs, and boring descriptions that were doubly hard to read in very small font.
    As I am over 50, I follow the rule that you are allowed to give up on a book after reading and being disappointed in X number of pages, where X is 100 minus your age. Bye-bye Fannie.
    John Irving A Widow for One Year (Modern Library of the World's Best Books). Maybe I’ll try Hotel New Hampshire; most people agree his Cider House Rules is a winner. I just couldn’t get into this saga and mixed up family’s meanderings.
    James Patterson Double Cross. Alex Cross makes another formulaic appearance. Did not appeal.
    Deanie Francis Mills Tight Rope. Sometimes I do like a good mystery, and I admit this was put aside mainly because the copy I have is a paperback and the typeset was too thick and hard to read.
    Iain Pears The Titian Committee. This one I did read all the way through. The characters tromp around Venice a lot, but all in all I don’t recommend this novel. Having read his Giotto’s Hand, I expected the same charming quirkiness. Here he is rather weak. There are more in his art-themed series: for instance Bernini Bust, The Raphael Affair. One may rise to the top, but it won’t be this.