Walking the Ancient Paths
The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert MacFarlane (book or downloadable audiobook). A gentle, thoughtful, meditative exploration of what it means to tread ancient paths that human beings have been walking for hundreds or even thousands of years. In addition to his own direct experiences, the author draws on the writings of a number of authors whose work relates to the theme. An extraordinary book, highly recommended to anyone who enjoys life on foot instead of on wheels.
Revolution but not too much revolution
Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence by Joseph J. Ellis. A fascinating story, well-written and organized. Books on the revolution usually focus on the underlying politics or on the battles. This one weaves the two together and shows how the two combined to result in a long, bitter, difficult war that the British couldn't win. We got our revolution not by outstanding military leadership, nor by outstanding political organization, but simply by continuing on year after year. (The Joslin Memorial Library also has a copy)
Southern not Gothic
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen (audio CD). Recently widowed Kate grabs her daughter and runs off into the wilds of Southern Georgia to visit her long-estranged Great-Aunt Eby who owns a tiny resort by a lake. Kate is fleeing her mother-in-law who has taken over her life and her daughter's life. Meanwhile, back at the Lake, Eby and her long-time friend, Lisette are facing the tough decision to sell out and leave. A few eccentric long-time visitors arrive for a last summer, a local handy-man faces some nasty personal demons and a truly slimy real-estate developer is reaching out greedy hands to seize the property. The book is better than it sounds. The eccentrics really are eccentric, there is an unusual touch of magic realism (for a novel of this type) and the romance is not silly.
1924 and Mount Everest
The Abominable by Dan Simmons. I have mixed feelings about this novel. It is a very fat book, 660 pages, and some of it moves a bit slowly. On the other hand, I found the details of mountain climbing technology in the 1920s fascinating, the story entertaining, and the cultural references enjoyable. Two other points--there is one central plot piece that I found utterly unbelievable and I thought some of the "good" guys way too good and the "baddies" unbelievably bad. I'm still glad I read the book, though.
Grim times for America
Nothing to fear : FDR's inner circle and the hundred days that created modern America by Adam Cohen (downloadable audio from Overdrive). My mother had told me stories of the Great Depression, but she lived on a tiny farm in Northern Indiana and her family was able to scrape by. This book opens up a nearly forgotten time when millions of families in America were literally facing starvation and homelessness. It also opens up a startling window into the opening days of Roosevelt's presidency. Roosevelt was, in many ways, a fiscal conservative. He hated the idea of providing relief to the needy, which he called "the dole" and he felt it was very important for the budget to balance. His administration included Progressives: Frances Perkins and Harry Hopkins and Henry Wallace, a middle-of-the-road adviser, Raymond Moley and a serious conservative, Lewis Douglas. There were some major battles, a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering and a bit of trial and error before the new Administration came down firmly on the side of Federal relief, public works and other ideas that are now taken for granted. Gives a great picture of the people who influenced Roosevelt and also carried out the New Deal.
Life in a polygamous sect
Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs by Elissa Wall (downloadable audiobook from Overdrive). You think being married is complicated? Try out a family with three mothers, one father and over 20 children. This is the family that Elissa Wall grew up in and unfortunately her mothers did not get along, which meant that the children did not get along which meant that her father looked bad to the church leadership...you get the idea. I found the first half of the book, describing the complexity of multiple marriage, interesting, while the second half, which describes Elissa finding herself forced into marriage at age 14 and her eventual testimony against the leader of the FLDS, considerably less so.
Death penalty train wrecks
The Confession by John Grisham (audio download and eBook from Overdrive, book, audiobook on CD). I was in a John Grisham mood so I downloaded this one to my MP3 player. I found the book engaging and irritating at the same time and now that a couple of days have passed I think I have figured out why. Grisham wanted the defense lawyer for the convicted man to be a hero, which means that the original case had to be a disaster, but not the defense lawyer's fault. In order to make this work, he piled unlikely upon ridiculous. At the other end, the real murderer, who turns up at the last moment to confess to the crime, is a sort of intriguing player, slimy but fascinating. Definitely a mixed bag of a book.
Summer in France
Blackbird Fly by Lise McClendon (downloadable audio from Overdrive). Merle Bennet is married, has a teenage son, a job she finds satisfying and what seems to be a tolerable life. Then her husband dies of a sudden heart attack and an unveiling begins. As Merle's life falls apart--her husband had a mistress and a daughter? The money is almost all gone AND he died leaving huge debts? Merle begins to reconsider her life. One of her only remaining assets is a house in a French village and she decides to run off and spend the summer rehabbing the house so she can sell it. Unfortunately, the village is farm from friendly, the house has a squatter, the local officials are nasty and then someone is murdered. A surprisingly entertaining story, although I got tired of the details of trying to do home rehab in France!
Explaining everything explains nothing
The Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein. A novel that manages to be both clever and warm, this book explores the life of a lonely professor, a widower with two daughters. He is a biology professor and sternly committed to Evolution (definitely with a capital E) as the explanation of everything. Then a young student turns up, wanting to do independent research on Intelligent Design. This is a bad moment for our protagonist, Andy, as his research on drunken mice is not going well, and his loneliness and doubts about his career are leaving him less sure than he used to be. He finds himself attracted to both the student and the possibility of religious faith, two situations that put his application for tenure in doubt. But you'll have to read the rest of the story for yourself. The author does not come down on either side of the argument. My guess is that she is simply opposed to the very common and human desire for certainty. Something that neither religion nor science can actually deliver, in my opinion. Mystery is the heart of the human condition.
One of those heartbreak and transformation novels
Family Pictures by Jane Green (audio CD or book). So, we've got Sylvie on one coast, married to a sweet guy who travels a lot and Maggie on the other coast, married to a guy who travels a lot and then he suddenly disappears and the ladies are having close encounters with bill collectors and other disasters. I think you can see where this is going. Light entertainment, except when it gets sort of grim--one of the teen daughters has an eating disorder. I enjoyed it as background to knitting, but it is a bit predictable.
Photography was a hard thing to invent!
Capturing the Light: The Birth of Photography, a True Story of Genius and Rivalry by Roger Watson & Helen Rappaport. This turned out to be a fascinating story. I had vaguely known that a breakthrough was made in the early 1800s and that there was something called a "Daguerreotype" that was an early sort of photo. Now that I know more of the story I'm quite impressed that anyone ever figured it out! There were actually two men working on it at the same time, Daguerre in France and Talbot in England. Daguerre published his work first, and is better known, but Talbot discovered a method for using a negative to produce multiple photos, which was the foundation for the most common type of photography before we all went digital. One more Englishman, Archer, made a huge breakthrough with an improvement to the negative process that made the image much sharper. A great book for anyone who has ever taken a photograph and wondered how this amazing process came to be.
Who stabbed big sister?
Accused by Lisa Scottoline (audio CD and book. The book is also at Joslin & Moretown). I both enjoyed this and found it irritating. The book focuses on Mary DiNunzio in her new role as partner at the law firm of Rosato and Associates. Mary takes on the case of a 13 year old who is convinced that the person serving jail time for murdering her sister didn't do it. Good case, good story. What started driving me crazy is that Mary's boyfriend, Mary's parents, Mary's parents friends take up a LOT of time in the novel and I have a limited capacity to enjoy Italian-American family life.
Explore, Innovate, Invent
The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics, and Mavericks, and the Creation of One Nation, Indivisible by Simon Winchester. (audio CD, book, eBook via GMLC). I truly enjoyed this wild set of stories that looks at the history of the United States from some unusual angles. For example, I never knew that the geography of the east coast of what later became the US made it very difficult to see what lay beyond the Appalachians. None of the rivers emptying into the Atlantic is major and they all are blocked by rapids and waterfalls before you get deep into the hinterland. The book is full of great tidbits about a wide variety of subjects and people. The author is also the narrator and he has a pleasant voice, with a British accent, but not a strong one.
It is 1960 and someone tried to murder Ellie's father
Styx & Stone by James W. Ziskin. An unusual little mystery novel which involves Dante, broken classical records, a professor who was hit on the head in his study, and a whole crowd of eccentric academics. Ellie has been off pursuing a career as a journalist and returns to NYC because the distinguished professor is her father. I thought that Ziskin did a very good job with the 1960 scene and with the academic background. Clever mystery, too.
Sycamore Row by John Grisham (audio CD, book, Overdrive: eBook and audiobook). Gripping story of a suicide, a hand-written will leaving a huge fortune to a black maid, and a lot of hungry lawyers. Why did Seth Hubbard cut off his family and leave all the money to his maid? Did she seduce him? Take advantage of a man dying of lung cancer? Or did Seth know exactly what he was doing? Gripping entertainment.
First came the sinking of the Titanic
The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe (downloadable audio from Overdrive). Boston in 1915 is a stifling and austere place for Sibyl Allston. Her mother and her sister went down with the Titanic, her brother was just kicked out of Harvard but no one wants to talk about why, her father hangs out in the dark with his parrot and reads the war news. So Sibyl goes to seances...an entertaining look back at a very different time and place. So glad corsets and ankle length skirts have gone out of fashion!
A story about the Edinburgh Festival
Starburst by Robin Pilcher (audio CD). The Edinburgh International Festival is actually 6 festivals that overlap. This novel follows a group of people whose lives intersect during the festival. I thought it was a bit on the sweet end, but enjoyed it nevertheless.
worth seeing again
Lincoln (DVD). Amazing film looks at the last few months of Lincoln's life when he was struggling with the bitter end to the war and with maneuvering the 13th Amendment through the House. If you didn't see it in the theater, be sure and check it out, and if you did see it in the theater, it is well worth watching a second time.
Manhattan and New Hampshire, Past and Present
Escape by Barbara Delinsky (audio CD). Emily is a lawyer working in Manhattan. Her job is repulsive, her marriage is strained by overwork, and her life seems crazy and pointless. One Friday she walks out of her office and runs away to the home of her best friend up in a small town in New Hampshire. Of course there are complications: her best friend's brother (Emily's ex-lover) turns up suddenly after a 10 year absence plus the baker at a B & B is being harassed over a trust fund. Mildly entertaining escapism.
Greenwich Village, 1964
Fin & Lady by Cathleen Schine (audio, book, downloadable audio from Overdrive). Fin is 11 when his mother dies. His father and grandparents had died in the last few years. The only one left to care for him is his older sister, Lady, who carts him off to Greenwich Village in 1964. Fin soon discovers that the need for support and guidance is mutual...
March on Washington, August 28, 1963
Let Freedom Ring: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the March on Washington by Kitty Kelley. Amazing pictures and excerpts from all of the speeches at this huge rally. I was interested to read this passage: "Marian Anderson was to open the formal program with The Star-Spangled Banner, but the renowned contralto could not make her way through the vast crush of people to the platform in time, so her place was taken by Camilla Williams, the first black woman to be given a role in the New York City Opera. Finally..."When Marian Anderson finally reached the platform, she moved the masses with her deep and solemn voice, singing He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." I was touched because I know the story of Marian Anderson's performance in the 1930s at the Lincoln Memorial. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mAONYTMf2pk A beautiful but sad book.
Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope. Joanna Trollope is a successful author of novels about the struggles of modern men and women. In this book she takes the plot and characters of Jane Austen's classic and moves them into 21st Century England. It works surprisingly well. There are still families that find themselves suddenly poor when a parent dies. There are still sisters who are extreme opposites. There are still intrusive landlords with busy-body relatives. There are romantic young men who turn out to be scoundrels. Enjoyable and entertaining.
Frozen in Time: An Epic Story of Survival and a Modern Quest for Lost Heroes of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff (downloadable audio from Overdrive, book). I listened to the audio and then I found the book on the shelf (940.54 Zuc) and looked at the pictures. Greenland in 1942 was a desolate place, but the US had a number of bases there to support aircraft on their way to Europe, to guard against German inflitration and to collect weather data. In November an airplane went down and a desperate search began. A few days later one of the search planes crashed. All of the men on board survived, but their situation was desperate. Finally, a daring rescue was mounted by a tiny airplane flying from a Coast Guard ship...which vanished suddenly. Zuckoff describes the long struggle for survival of the survivors of the crash of the search plane, the many rescue attempts AND a modern-day search for the missing Coast Guard plane. A gripping tale which makes winter in VT seem positively cozy.
When you are up...
The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens who Made England by Dan Jones (downloadable audio from Overdrive). Because this dynasty was incorrigibly warlike, they always needed more money. Because they needed more money they leaned on their barons, who leaned on everyone else. Because some of the kings were failures at conquest, the size of the taxable empire shrank. All of these pieces together led first to the Magna Charta and then, gradually, to the creation of a parliament. Once the Parliament began meeting, it wasn't a long time before representatives of the growing urban areas were invited to join, at which point England had an unprecedented governmental structure: the King was still sort of an absolute ruler, but he couldn't go to war without the consent of a whole crowd of people. Besides the bizarre tale of the origins of modern representative government, there are lots of arranged marriages, invasions, coups, intrigues and disasters, including the arrival of the Black Death.
Rich and poor and wacky!
Long Live the King by Fay Weldon. Second book in a trilogy (Habits of the House was the first) exploring a rather curious family of intermittently wealthy aristocrats and their servants. The Earl's niece, Adela, joins the cast after her rather unpleasant parents die suddenly and adds an entertaining excursion into spiritualism. Overall there is a lot more upstairs than downstairs in this round.
Nothing new in America when it comes to conspiracy theories!
The Lincoln Deception by David O. Stewart. A first novel by a historian, this gripping thriller starts with an actual historical event: As Congressman John Bingham lay dying, he told his doctor that one of the group of assassins who supported John Wilkes Booth had told him a terrible secret. He did not reveal what the secret was but carried it into death with him. Stewart follows a fictionalized version of the doctor as he begins to dig into the story of the assassination and then links him up with a partner, a black man, also based on a real person. Stewart does a great job of mixing fiction and fact as he digs into the possible back story of the Lincoln assassination. Fascinating.
Things are not so Sunny in Tuscany
Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George (audio CD, book). A long and complicated story that starts with a child who is kidnapped, first by her mother and then by a mysterious stranger. Inspector Lynley's assistant Barbara Havers is in the middle of the complications as the kidnapped child is her neighbor and the child's father is a very close friend. Much of the action takes place in Italy and the peculiarities (to English eyes) of the Italian legal system get a lot of play. As always with George, I both enjoyed the book and wanted to throw it across the room...
Nuclear stand-off in the 1950s--the story behind the headlines
Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World by Evan Thomas (downloadable audio from Overdrive). I'm actually old enough to remember some of the events described in this book, but it was interesting to get a picture behind the scenes. Eisenhower was the second president to face the possibility of nuclear war and the question of the tactical use of nuclear weapons played a large role in his presidency. Eisenhower also disapproved of what he saw as the bottomless demands of the military industrial complex and spent many years battling to keep control of the defense budget. In case anyone was wondering what "Ike" was doing when he wasn't playing golf...
The disastrous summer of 1968
Loss of Innocence by Richard North Patterson. Whitney Dane was born into privilege and her father is gently guiding her into a copy of her mother's "perfect" life, with a sweet husband who is going to work for her father's bank, a big wedding coming up in a few weeks and a domesticated life. Whitney, however, has a lot of questions. A young man upsets many of her assumptions and then an explosive discovery overturns the center of her life. A good read.
Hard times in Anglo-Saxon England
Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell. Emma of Normandy had a fascinating life. As a teen she married the Anglo-Saxon king of England Aethelred, a much older man with at least 10 children. She entered a kingdom under attack by the Vikings and with many other challenges. This novel (the first of a planned trilogy) imagines the early part of her life, about which little is known. The author definitely takes some liberties with the limited historical record but why not? A nice break from the Tudors.
One reason special education costs are so high
Lead Wars, the Politics of Science and the Fate of America's Children by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner. The sad story of millions of children poisoned and the mostly ineffective means used to, at best, limit the degree of injury. I have a hard time standing back from this topic as one of the children exposed to lead dust from paint was my granddaughter, as a toddler. One of the major ways that lead paint is dealt with is to wait until a child turns up with elevated lead levels (clear evidence of injury for which there is NO effective treatment) and then clean up that particular house or apartment. There has to be a better way! Vermont has a lot of old housing and this subject should be on everyone's radar.
A surprising look at the climate change question
Cows Save the Planet and Other Improbable Ways of Restoring Soil to Heal the Earth: Unmaking the Deserts, Rethinking Climate Change, Bringing Back Biodiversity, and Restoring Nutrients to our Food by Judith D. Schwartz. I usually write my own brief reviews, but this one says it so well I'll just steal it! "Here's a secret climate-change activists and energy-efficiency and renewable-energy promoters neglect: Nature is designed to be self-healing, and her most profound 'tool' is photosynthesis. 'Free' sunlight is the best energy source to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while also producing organic matter and oxygen--and a by-product is healthier soil, forests, wetlands, and ecosystems. When politicians, policy leaders, and activists get serious about cost-effective solutions to climate change, then a top priority will be ecological restoration to harvest and store carbon naturally, and Judith Schwartz's new book will provide a destination and map."--Will Raap, founder, Gardener's Supply and Intervale Center
I would love to buy more copies of this book and sponsor a book discussion. Utterly fascinating. Turned many of my fixed ideas about climate change and the environmental situation upside down.
Life belowstairs in Restoration London
A Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna Calkins. Lucy is a chambermaid in the small and kindly household of a magistrate in London. Mysterious goings on and the frightful deaths of two young women pull Lucy out of her quiet daily routine of scrubbing, shopping and emptying chamber pots. A lively historical novel and an interesting look into daily life in a little known period.
READ THIS BOOK!!
Rethinking Money: How New Currencies Turn Scarcity into Prosperity by Bernard Lietaer and Jacqui Dunne. Do we live in a world where people have to be poor and suffering or is there another way. Bernard Lietaer has worked as a banker, a fund manager, and a professor. He offers hundreds of examples, using a variety of alternative currencies, to show that we are suffering from a fixed view of what money is and how it works, rather than a hopeless reality. I vote that the Vermont alternative currency be called the Kaleback.
Things are bad in Montreal
How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny. Armand Gamache has been pushed to the wall by hostile forces in the Surete. As a distraction he accepts a case from an overstretched Montreal Police Department--the murder of a woman who turns out to be the last of a famous group of Quints (loosely, very loosely based on the story of the Dione Quints). Constance had connections with Three Pines and of course Armand heads down for some good food and conversation. This is a great series of mysteries!
a few misunderstandings
Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown. This book is one of a kind. The plot, to simplify, is the story of a chef who is kidnapped by a woman pirate captain. She demands one superb meal a week in exchange for his continued existence. The chef struggles to find a way to produce gourmet food out of the shipboard supplies as he gradually discovers the story behind the extraordinary woman and her crew. A meditation on the sensual pleasures of food and the failures of simplified moral judgments.
Central Park Mysteries
Death Angel by Linda Fairstein (audio CD or book). Linda Fairstein continues her tour of the great institutions of New York City with an odd murder in Central Park which turns out to be connected to another remarkable institution, the Dakota. There is an old tragedy, a personal crisis for Alex Cooper, and some fascinating ancient history. Lots of twists and turns and plot complications, as usual.
Lost in Albania
The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines by Cate Lineberry.. November 1943--30 nurses and medics board a transport plane in Italy--a few hours later the plane crash lands in Nazi held Albania. Life in Albania is medieval at the best of times (except for the guns), and after years of German occupation and civil war things are very grim. The story of how this poorly equipped group managed to survive and eventually escape is gripping. Two caveats: the cast of characters is huge and I had a hard time keeping track of who was who; this is the author's first book and her writing is pedestrian at best. I'm fascinated by the Balkan area and this book highlights a little-known country during a secretive period.
Canada, Ireland, America
TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (audio CD, book, Overdrive eBook). A complex, multi-generational book that begins with the first transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland, continues with the visit to Ireland by Frederick Douglas in 1845 and 46, follows George Mitchell as he heads for Belfast and the painfully prolonged peace talks where he meets an elderly woman named Lottie and the story then loops around to Lottie's grandmother who met Frederick Douglas. The curious mix of real and fictional people was both intriguing and for me, at least, irritating. An interesting novelistic view of the experiences of the Irish on both sides of the Atlantic.
Bad times in Maine
Bad Little Falls by Paul Doiron (audio cd). Mike Bowditch is a Maine game warden with a penchant for getting into messes. In this book he runs into a drug mess, a woman mess, a child mess and some dead bodies (including one frozen zebra). One of those entertaining stories that is also depressing. Curious combo. This is part of a series and the Moretown Memorial Library has the first one, The Poacher's Son as a book, the second one, this title, as a book and the third one, Trespasser, is available in Moretown or Warren as a book. Warren also has the 4th book in the series, Massacre Pond. Your library membership is good at all three libraries: Moretown, Joslin, Warren.
The Lost Generation in Paris
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain (audio CD, book, eBook, downloadable audio). I finally got to this one! Biographical novel about Hadley Hemingway, the first wife of the writer, who spent several years in Paris. A different angle on Hemingway and his struggle to find his voice. I enjoyed it.
The messy, dirty, amazing world of rare books
The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible by Matti Friedman. Aleppo, in Syria, was the home of an ancient community of Jews who had treasured an extraordinary book for hundreds of years. With the founding of the state of Israel, Jewish communities throughout the Arab world found themselves under attack and the Aleppo Jews had to depart. This amazing book tells the story of what happened to the book as it left the hidden store-room under the synagogue and departed into the wide world. It is a fascinating but rather dark story. Well worth reading!
Pioneer Ohio, runaway slaves, Quakers
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (audio CD, book). A young Quaker woman finds herself stranded in Ohio in 1850 and begins to help runaway slaves. This puts her in conflict, not only with the slave hunters, but with some of her fellow Quakers who are opposed to breaking the law even in a good cause. The author manages to tell a good story and incorporates fascinating details about frontier housekeeping, methods for hiding runaways and how to make a quilt. Recommended (but only for women, I think this book would drive many men up the wall.)
Strange little people
The Gnome Craft Book by Thomas and Petra Berger. Confession time--I bought this particular book because I thought my grandchildren would like it. They make things--toys, games, dolls, tree-houses, machines--and I thought they would probably enjoy a book about making gnomes. I was right. They thought the book was great fun and they are working on one of the designs. There are a lot of different patterns using all sorts of materials, ranging from very easy and simple to fairly complicated. Have children or grandchildren? Check it out!
Shot by an assassin, killed by backward medical care.
Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard (book or audio CD). The sad but fascinating story of the life and death of James A. Garfield. He was shot by a crazy man, but the system that inspired the attack, the "spoils" system, was actually at the core of the battle between Garfield and the political establishment of his time. Weirdly, Alexander Graham Bell also played a significant role in the dying president's medical care as he tried to invent a metal detector that could locate a bullet inside of a human body. The very saddest thing, to me, was that despite all the advances in medical care, thousands still die in the US from infections that are the result of medical errors. As I was listening to this story I saw this headline: Why Hospitals Want Patients to Ask Doctors, 'Have You Washed Your Hands?' Infections picked up in hospitals, nursing homes and doctor's offices affect more than 1 million patients and are linked to nearly 100,000 deaths a year.
Amelie (DVD). A charming and whimsical movie about a shy young woman who decides to devote herself to making the world a better place. As she pursues her goal she encounters a number of nice and not-so-nice Parisians and has some odd and delightful adventures. Highly recommended if you haven't seen it and well worth watching again if you have.
Different Angle on World War II
Brothers, Rivals, Victors: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, and the Partnership that Drove the Allied Conquest in Europe by Jonathan W. Jordan (audio CD). I got a deal on some slightly older audio book sets and this is one of the collection. I've read a number of histories of this war from various angles, but this one was unique. For one thing, it gives an outstanding explanation of why a standing army inclines a nation towards war, unless said army is unable to influence the executive and legislative branches in any way. The story told is of three men, all committed to army careers in a US which was at peace, and their interactions in the 1920s and 1930s. Then the book moves on to their roles during World War II and how they really felt about each other. Ouch. But they liked each other better than they liked their allies, the Brits...barely. Not a picture of glory and valor, but fascinating, nevertheless.
Rowing to glory in 1936 Berlin
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. I bought this book at the request of a patron and I'm so glad I did. Glorious story, well told of the University of Washington's 8 oar racing shell team and their long, bitterly hard journey through the Depression to the Berlin Olympics. Highly recommended!
From the edge of society to a title and a castle
Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle by the Countess of Carnarvon. This is one of those books that I purchased at a patron's request. I'm glad I did, as the odd and interesting story of how the illegitimate daughter of a Jewish financier became a countess, a society hostess and eventually the matron of a war-time hospital is well worth reading. Alfred de Rothschild married off his beautiful daughter to the Earl of Carnarvon, providing her with a glittering future and the Earl with enough funds to keep the Castle and estate humming along. Almina was a strong-minded, energetic woman who enjoyed throwing extravagant parties. Even before World War I began, she was working to turn the Castle into a hospital. Combining the deep pockets of her father with her own skill at management and hands-on nursing she created a very effective and successful hospital that returned many officers to health. The Earl, for his side, took up Egyptian archaelogy and with Howard Carter he discovered the tomb of King Tut. This incredibly expensive hobby drained his enormous financial resources and resulted in his early death.
Hercule Poirot in Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie (Audio CD). Need something brief and entertaining? This two CD dramatization of a story by Christie will take care of your problem. Poirot is on vacation in Palestine (must have been the 1930s) and runs into a dysfunctional family. Someone gets murdered.
A long and complicated political life
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham (book at Joslin, downloadable audio from Overdrive). Joy Worland and I negotiated over two books a few months back. We bought the final volume of the Churchill biography and she bought this biography. I listened to the audio version and found it fascinating, especially in relation to the John Adams material I've been watching and reading over the last few years. Jefferson was both a great man and a greatly flawed human being and his story is a microcosm of the beginnings of the American nation. Jefferson was a practical idealist, brilliantly intelligent, both intellectually adventurous and well-grounded in the realities of political maneuvering. His great failure was, of course, in regard to slavery. This is an excellent biography and highly recommended.
An empire of upper class debt
Habits of the House by Fay Weldon. The first novel of a trilogy observing the life of an upper-crust English family and their servants. Light and amusing. The Earl is careless with money, his wife, the illegitimate daughter of a coal magnate, is practical but excluded from the reality of their situation, the son is a youthful flake obsessed with steam automobile technology and the daughter is obsessed with social activism. Confronted by disaster and hopeless debts, everyone in the family struggles to hang on to their familiar pleasures. Meanwhile, the servants of the household try to figure out what is going on and how it might affect their work and future.
Seventy years of Paris
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris by David McCullough (book or audio CD). There have been many books about the "lost generation" of Americans who lived and worked in Paris in the 1920s. The thousands of extraordinary Americans who visited Paris in the 1800s are not as well-known. I listened to the audio version, which is incomplete. The note says: "For this special audio presentation, McCullough has chosen a selection of portraits, excerpted in their entirety..." Delightfully rich and fascinating. My favorite part was the tale of Eliahu Washburn, who held together the American Embassy during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and saved the lives of many ordinary Germans who had been working in Paris before the war began.
Boston and the birth of the American Revolution
Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick (audio CD, Joslin, book, Warren). I borrowed the audio book from the Joslin Memorial Library and then enjoyed the illustrations and maps in the physical book at the Warren Public Library. If you have a membership at any of the three libraries (Moretown is the third), you can check out materials at all three libraries. This is a fascinating story and particularly interesting for Warren residents as the main player in much of the tale is Dr. Joseph Warren, the town's namesake. Highly recommended!
Scandals and Disasters
Domestic Affairs by Eileen Goudge (audio CD). Abigail is a Martha Steward type author and TV personality, Lila is a wealthy society wife. Lila's husband falls into a disastrous business scandal and Lila is suddenly broke and nearly friendless. Meanwhile, Abigail is busy and successful but ignoring her family, which is falling apart. Many years ago Lila and Abigail were best friends and "almost" sisters, whose connection was broken, suddenly and bitterly. Now they reconnect...
Woman pilot in World War II France
Becoming Clementine by Jennifer Niven. This is the 3rd in a series, but it reads well as a stand-alone. Velva Jean Hart has become a WASP and is flying a plane across the Atlantic to England. She manages to finagle her way into co-piloting a plane dropping off agents in France. Everything goes wrong and she finds herself on the ground and in a stew. An exciting adventure story made even better by painstaking research.
Filling the Gap
The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James. I did a bit of "catch-up" reading while on vacation. This is one of those books I meant to read and skipped past when it was new. Not a bad pastiche, but I didn't find it believable as the story of a hidden, tragic, love affair in Jane Austen's life. The historical research is solid and the writing is good, so I'm not sorry I read it.
Am Amazing Live
John Adams (DVD) (We also have the book!) This is an amazing movie, well worth watching again. After I finished it I wanted to go back and watch the whole thing again. Highly recommended!
Garbage, garbage everywhere and not a landfill within driving distance!
Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson. We've got a problem in VT when it comes to garbage. We are down to one landfill for the entire state. The cost of getting rid of trash includes not just "tipping" fees but also the cost of transporting the garbage. So...it makes a lot of sense to take steps to reduce the amount of garbage we all generate. This book tells you how. I've made a start by switching from tea that comes in tea bags and little boxes to bulk tea. I already had a teapot with a built in strainer, I just needed to get my act together to use it. The author says that reducing her garbage to one quart a year reduced living expenses for her family by 40%. Highly recommended!
Sort of Downton Abbey goes to Africa
The Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig. Cousins grow up together in a big country house in England before World War I. One makes a society marriage which fails and then she remarries and goes to Kenya. Where her second marriage begins to fall apart. Meanwhile, the other cousin finds a job, supports herself and generally behaves like a grown-up. Moving forward 80 years, the granddaughter of one of the women begins to realize that there is a family mystery...
Behind the Sitcom you see...
The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner (audio CD at Warren, Joslin has the book). Ruth Saunders wants to write for TV so she heads for Hollywood with her grandma in tow. Years pass as she works her way up and finally gets a chance to be the show-runner for her own sitcom. Things go downhill from there. A great exploration of how the programs we see are the result of "art" by committee.
Food, sunshine and crime
The Marseille Caper by Peter Mayle (downloadable audio, eBook or book ). Francis Reboul needs someone to solve a little problem for him involving convincing a civic committee that his project for developing a section of the waterfront. Reboul can't present the project himself. The head of the committee doesn't like him. This premise brings Sam and Elena to Marseille, where they live in the lap of luxury, eat scrumptious food, wander the countryside admiring the scenery AND deal with ruthless criminals who are backing the competing projects. Yummy entertainment.
Fun in the Kitchen with Julia
Julia Child's French Classics (DVD). Six episodes of the French Chef, covering French Onion Soup, Coq au Vin, Quiche Lorraine, Chocolate Mousse, several varieties of Crepes and French Tarts made with apples. I've spent most of my life without a TV, so this was my intro to Julia Child. Great fun and I did learn some useful techniques. I thought it was amusing that Julia is acting like a woman who has no other purpose in life than creating great food in her domestic kitchen--but of course she was, in reality, a highly paid professional performer and the author of bestselling books.
Why are there so many dead bodies in little English villages?
Death on the Downs by Simon Brett (audio CD). A step above the usual "village" mystery, with a complex puzzle, interesting characters and some delightful commentary on the purchase of village pubs by large corporate chains.
Catching up on a series
As a few people probably noticed, I've been on vacation. I decided to read the latest by Margaret Maron while I was on break and discovered that I had missed 5! books in the series. Warren didn't have everything in the gap, but between the Joslin Memorial Library in Waitsfield and the Moretown Memorial Library I managed to read all 5 AND the current book in my 3 week vacation. Your library card is now good at all three libraries, which can be quite convenient. There is even a special search function in the catalog to see what is available in the Mad River Valley Libraries. Choose advanced search, go to the bottom of the page and use the down arrow in the "groups of libraries" box to use this search. Type your search into the box and there you are!
The Buzzard Table by Margaret Maron. The larger world intrudes on rural North Carolina with the use of the local airstrip for moving prisoners from "Gitmo" to other countries as part of so-called "extraordinary rendition" flights. A mysterious ornithologist and a missing realtor with a lively sex live round out the story. Entertaining, as always.
An expansion of Murphy's Law
Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The main point of this book is that betting that the world will work right is always a losing bet. Sooner or later, probably sooner, things will go wrong. The author of The Black Swan started out considering investments and the accuracy of predictions, but in this book he expands his original idea to consider the broader world. Not that he neglects money. He just adds in bridges and medicine and dishes and evolution. A book that I found both fascinating and irritating. The theme is fascinating. The author is irritating. Right. But irritating.
Who painted the fake Degas?
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro (Book, e-book, downloadable audio, audio). Loosely based on a famous theft of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, this quirky novel explores the authenticity of art. The main character is a struggling artist with a scandal in her past. To pay the bills she paints certified copies of famous impressionist works. When she is asked to copy what may be one of the missing paintings from the heist, she is faced with some very complex moral decisions and a lot of hard work. Forging a painting is not a minor undertaking--among other things you need an industrial size oven. I thought it was a very good read, suspenseful, entertaining and thought-provoking.
Trouble in the Laguna of Venice
A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon (Audio CD). Fire and death on the island of Pellestrina are hard for Guido Brunetti to investigate as the local population refuses to talk to anyone in a position of authority. It turns out that Signorina Elettra has local relatives and, despite Brunetti's concerns, she heads out to Pallestrina for a vacation. One of Ms. Leon's darker tales of Venice as things go from bad to worse.
Home Wedding Disaster
Love Bomb by Lisa Leidner. The Mad River Valley hosts lots and lots of delightful weddings. This book is the story of a wedding gone weird when a "hostage taker" dressed in a gas mask and a wedding gown comes bouncing in and uses a gun to change everyone's plans. On one level, the entire "event" is an excuse for the author to examine marriage, divorce, romance, sexual behavior, child-raising, racial relations and family life, but having a series of events behind the scrutiny makes it all much more entertaining. Recommended!
More weird economics
Superfreakonomics: Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner (downloadable audio or downloadable eBook). I had fun listening to this. However, I ended up with some doubts about their research. In two areas where I have some in-depth knowledge I found their analysis inadequate. The first was on the story of Dr. Semmelweiss and childbed fever. They left out the fact that he was forced out of his position and the hospital so that doctors could continue to deliver babies without troubling with hand-washing. Problems with childbed fever in hospitals continued well into the 1930s despite the cause having been clearly identified by 1848. The second was on the use of car seats for older children. They crossed up the immense difficulty of installing infant car seats with the minor difficulty of installing car seats for older kids. True, bigger kids may not get huge benefits from riding in a booster or car seat, but on the other hand, most of them are very easy to set up and are not super expensive. Still entertaining, but I would definitely take their arguments with a large grain of salt.
A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy (book, audiobook, downloadable audio, eBook). This is a bittersweet experience for Binchy fans--it is her final book. Set in a tiny town, it tells the story of the founding of a rural hotel and the guests who come for the first week. Quietly enjoyable for her fans, perhaps a bit lacking in action for those who don't already know Binchy.
The Fall of the House of Dixie: The Civil War and the Social Revolution that Transformed the South by Bruce Levine. Why did the South lose the Civil War? It is a complex story, but one area that is sometimes overlooked is the huge manpower shortage caused by the South's dependence on slave labor, along with the extreme social stratification arising from the same source. This well-written history tells the little known story of social collapse using the famous Poe short story "The Fall of the House of Usher" as a model for the undoing of what had seemed, at the beginning of the war, to be a permanent way of life.
Are Statins always the best choice?
The Truth About Statins: Risks and Alternatives to Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs by Barbara H. Roberts, M.D. A comprehensive review of heart disease in America and treatment choices by a doctor specializing in women's cardiac health. Dr. Roberts reviews reasons for heart problems, the evolving theories about treatments, the various studies of statins and the guidelines recommending statins in various populations. Helpful for anyone who is trying to figure out the best way to manage their cholesterol levels.
Romance gone wrong and wrong and wrong...
Something Blue by Emily Giffin (audio CD on loan from Stamford Community Library). One of those light romances where you seriously want to beat the female lead over the head with the book (or in this case the audiobook). Darcy is very beautiful and has made a career out of being very beautiful. Then everything starts to come undone. While engaged to one man, she starts an affair with another man (one of her fiance's best friends). Her fiance dumps her and THEN she discovers that he has rebounded into the arms of her BEST friend. Meanwhile, she is pregnant by her lover who turns out to be fairly tough to train to her standards. It goes on and on like this with drama piled upon drama...but in the end someone finally manages to wake Darcy up and her inner decent human being emerges bit by bit. Not to be taken seriously. Definitely not!
The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don't Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Lineby Jennifer Margulis. An extremely critical look at the American approach to pregnancy, childbirth and the first year of life. Based on a careful review of the literature, along with interviews with doctors, parents, scientists and attempted interviews with some people who didn't want to talk to a journalist.
A Dog's Life...and life...and life
Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend by Susan Orlean (audio CD). One of the oddest stories I've ever listened to. Lee Duncan was an American soldier in World War I who brought back a German Shepherd pup. He was also the result of a rough childhood which included spending time in an orphanage and some very tough times. He and the pup, Rin Tin Tin, eventually became movie stars, the dog on camera and Lee as the clever trainer. But that is only the beginning of a long and complex tale with many wild ups and downs, including a very successful TV show, multiple incarnations of Rin Tin Tin and a plethora of lawsuits. Read by the author, who reads fairly well but has a slightly odd voice.
Cold and very scary thriller
Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman (book, downloadable audio, downloadable eBook). One winter morning Nora wakes up and discovers that her husband has hung himself. At first it just seems a senseless tragedy but bit by bit oddities and horrors emerge and soon she wonders what really is going on in this quaint little town in upstate New York. Quite a good job for a first time author, scary, atmospheric and believable (well, mostly, thrillers are by their very nature a bit over the top).
Those damn medical bills!
Out of Warranty by Haywood Smith. Cassie is a middle-aged widow with terrible health insurance (expensive, covers nothing) and some major health problems. Jack is a middle-aged divorced man with excellent health insurance but a disastrously unhealthy old house and very little cash. They meet, of course, in a doctor's waiting room where they do NOT hit it off. Surprisingly funny for a book which is mostly about death and disease and getting old in America.
Small town Maine turns very messy
Unhinged by Sarah Graves (downloadable audio from ListenUp! Vermont). The plot on this one stretches a bit past unbelievable, but the reader is good, the home repair challenges are amusing and some of the characters are fascinating. Recommended if you like small town mysteries and can tolerate some absurdities...
And I thought I knew the whole story...
The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965 by William Manchester and Paul Reid. The monumental (literally, it would be a useful door-stop) final volume of the definitive Churchill biography, begun by William Manchester and completed by Paul Reid. I thought I was thoroughly familiar with the course of World War II, but this book taught me better. To give one example, Churchill was not concerned about the likelihood of a German invasion after Dunkirk because he knew that the Germans didn't have enough boats available. On the other hand, the Battle of the Atlantic came very close to starving the Brits, bit by bit, sunk ship by sunk ship. A gripping story of a remarkable human being. The book is over 1,000 pages and well worth the time.
Short mysteries featuring Hercule P.
The Labours of Hercules by Agatha Christie (audio). Warren did a temporary exchange with Stamford Community Library. We got 9 of their audio books and they got 9 of ours. This is one of the exchange items. I enjoy an occasional Agatha Christie, especially the older ones. This one is set in the 1930s and, except for an attack on women who knit, was a very pleasant selection of short stories featuring odd little mysteries.
Teenage rebellion is where it starts
The Witness by Nora Roberts (audio CD and book). Elizabeth rebels against her insanely strict mom and goes out to a nightclub. Of course, this being a thriller, she ends up witnessing a brutal murder, is put into a witness protection program and things go down hill from there. Surprisingly entertaining, given the bizarre beginning.
Background and pictures of old stuff
The Chronicles of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes & Matthew Sturgis (book). This "coffee-table" book came with the three season set of DVDs I purchased for the library, so we added it to the collection. It is more of a browsing book than something meant to be read cover to cover. I found the photos of period gadgets and gewgaws the most interesting aspect of the book.
The End of a War and an Assassination of a President
Killing Lincoln: The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever by Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard (book or downloadable audio). I listened to the download. This is a horrifying and fascinating story. The authors take you through the last days of the war, Lee's surrender, the plotting by Booth and friends, the horrific shot at the theater and then the manhunt. I'd suggest also checking out the book if you do the audio, so you can see the pictures and the maps. Link to book: http://warren.kohavt.org/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=255121 and to audio http://catalog.kohavt.org/cgi-bin/koha/opac-detail.pl?biblionumber=418525
Scenery, food, art thieves
Phoebe & the Ghost of Chagall by Jill Koenigsdorf. A whimsical book about a ghost, foreclosure, bike touring Provence, finding true love, and the struggle against the underground market in stolen and lost art. Fun!
Song of the Vikings: Snorri and the Making of Norse Myths by Nancy Marie Brown. The tiny, independent and remote land of Iceland was the home of Snorri Sturluson, who earned fame as the man who wrote down almost all of the remaining Norse mythology. In this lively mixture of lore, mythology and history, Ms. Brown brings a remote time and world to life.
Yummy and mostly quick
200 Best Canned Fish & Seafood Recipes: For Tuna, Salmon, Shrimp, Crab, Clams, Oysters, Lobster & More by Susan Sampson. There are times when a can of tuna or salmon looks like a really good solution. Unfortunately, man of the recipes that involve canned fish are a bit...uninspired. This attractive cookbook has everything from simple to fancy. I tried two recipes, one where I substituted a lot and the other where I mostly followed instructions. They both worked out well. Includes appetizers, salads, sandwiches, entrees, and recipes suited for breakfast or brunch.
Food of a Younger Land by Mike Kurlansky (audio CD). An odd book, consisting mostly of extracts from a WPA project called America Eats. The book was lost when World War II began and all of the collected copy ended up in a file box. Writers from all over the US had collected stories about cook-outs and clam bakes and sugar on snow parties, along with descriptions of unusual restaurants (remember the Automat?) and regional arguments about the right way to cook this or that. What I found most striking is that Americans were already heavily addicted to sugar by the mid-1930s AND that canned foods were already used in lots of recipes. Not much in the way of plot...
Facade of Wealth
Park Lane by Frances Osborne (downloadable audio from Listen Up! Vermont). Grace is a maid who wants to be a secretary and Beatrice is a lady who wants to be a revolutionary. Life has surprises in store for both of them as the pretense of wealth in Beatrice's family totters and her mother's push for a good marriage fails; meanwhile Grace struggles to support her family "up north" on a salary much lower than a secretary would earn. A good story, however I found the reader's voice and approach irritating. Listen to a sample before you check out.
Downton Abbey Season I
Downton Abbey, Season I (DVD). We have DVD sets for all three seasons and they are proving quite popular. Great acting, gorgeous old house (the real thing), spiffy costumes and wild soap opera plotting. What is not to like?
German Bund in the US
Fear Itself by Andrew Rosenheim. Jimmy Nessheim is a young FBI man carrying out routine surveillance of "commies" when he is informed of a cache of guns that might be connected to the German Bund. It is the first clue on a complex trail that leads to the White House. I don't like suspense novels but this one pulled me right in. I particularly enjoyed the view inside the FBI in the 1930s.
Cold, steep, dry and isolated
Mountain of Ice: Antarctica's Vinson Massif (DVD). A small expedition sets out to climb the "other" side of Antarctica's Vinson Massif, which has never been climbed. The logistics of any climb in Antarctica are daunting. There is literally nothing there except snow and ice. Once they have been dropped off by a tiny plane, they are completely dependent on their carefully planned supply cache. Everything they need at every point has to be dragged or toted by the climbers. Includes commentary by Jon Krakauer who was a member of the small expedition.
Sherlock Holmes and the Cell Phone Caper
Sherlock (DVD). I picked this one out because I really like Benedict Cumberbatch (Holmes). The premise is that Sherlock Holmes is a 21st Century consulting detective, with a web-site, etc, etc. The first show brings Dr. Watson into Holmes orbit and also introduces Detective Inspector Lestrade and Mrs. Hudson. Entertaining take-off on the original concept. It is rather nice to get rid of all the horses and fancy costumes and so forth, just for a change of pace. We have the first three episodes. Apparently there are more. Anyone willing to donate the rest of the series?
Murder of a Castrato
The Dead Shall Not Rest by Tessa Harris (book). The second in a mystery series set in England in the 1780s and exploring the very early days of forensic pathology. Many of the characters in this novel are based on real people: the Irish Giant Charles Byrne, the fashionable dwarf "Count" Josef Boruwlaski, the extraordinary research doctor John Hunter and three professional body snatchers, Howison, Crouch and Hartnett. A bit gruesome in places, but an interesting window into the past history of medicine and science.
Pinkerton and Lincoln!
The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War by Daniel Stashower. I never knew that the founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency had foiled a plot to assassinate Lincoln on his way to his inauguration. I also had never realized that the first woman employed as a detective, Kate Warne, worked for Pinkerton and was also deeply involved in this story. Maryland hovered on the brink of joining the South and Baltimore was filled with secessionists. Some began plotting to ambush Lincoln as he passed through the city on his way to the District of Columbia. A fascinating account.
Feuds of Alaska
Bad Blood by Dana Stabenow. Two small villages in very rural Alaska, Kushtaka and Kuskulana suffer an outbreak of young men murdered. State trooper, Sergeant Jim Chopin, faces stone faced villagers who not only won't answer questions but actively hide and destroy evidence. A rough ride!
Guest Review from Patty Lange
Being Visual: Raising a Generation of Innovative Thinkers by Bette Fetter. This book explains the way right brain people learn. How Society's educational system in the past and still now is based on left brain linear thinking. Many of us right brain people get lost in the shuffle of education because we learn and think differently. We may be labeled lazy, ADHD, ADD, nerd, weird or some other learning disabled classification. We are some of the most creative people!
The author, who is an artist, educator and right brain thinker, includes key learning styles (Montessori), fisual study techniques and effective writing strategies.
If only this book was available when I was a struggling student...
The Next Yarn Thing
Getting Started Crochet by Judith L. Swartz. Have you learned how to knit? Want to mess with yarn some more? Learn to crochet! This is a good, basic, clear introduction to the craft and includes excellent illustrations, directions and a number of beginning projects.
The Next Yarn Thing
Getting Started Crochet by Judith L. Swartz. Have you learned how to knit? Want to mess with yarn some more? Learn to crochet! This is a good, basic, clear introduction to the craft and includes excellent illustrations, directions and a number of beginning projects.
A straightforward murder?
By Stone, by Blade, by Fire by Kate Wilhelm (audio CD). Another excellent legal mystery/thriller by one of my favorite authors. Travis Morgan obviously ran in and shot the bookkeeper working for his father's church. Two witnesses, one an ex-cop, saw him do it. But when Kate starts digging into the case the oddities and horrors pile up at a terrific rate. Can she build a case that will convince a jury?
Two challenges: a rapist and the police department
Jane Doe No More: My 15-Year Fight to Reclaim My Identity--A True Story of Survival, Hope and Redemption by M. William Phelps with Donna Palomba. Attacked in her home by a masked intruder, Donna Palomba survived a rape, only to suffer for long years because some members of the police department decided that she was a liar. What makes it particularly outrageous is that the gossip they relied on reached them at 4th hand. Meanwhile they ignored excellent forensic evidence and allowed a rapist to continue his crimes. Donna fought back vigorously with the support of her husband, friends and extended family and managed to clear her name and to help convict the rapist. Quite a story!
Time Traveling Witch
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness (audio CD, book). Part 2 of a trilogy about witches, vampires and demons, Shadow involves magical time travel into the Europe of 1590. The author is a specialist in this period and knows her away around the everyday life exceptionally well. The book gets off to a bit of a slow start, but then it is loads of fun. Do read the first volume first--this isn't a series you can start in the middle.
Mysterious short stories
Kinsey and Me by Sue Grafton (book). Short stories about Kinsey Milhone, detective and about Sue Grafton, author. The first half of the book has fun little stories involving murder, mayhem and puzzlement. The second half of the book explores the mysteries of family, alcohol, motherhood, marriage, home in stories that are half way between autobiography and fiction. A bit of an odd mix, but it will work nicely for her fans.
America's Tangled History
The Fiddler on Pantico Run: An African Warrior, His White Descendants, A Search for Family by Joe Mozingo. Highly recommended! One of the strangest of American tales, starting with an African slave arriving in Jamestown in 1644, being freed in 1672, settling down as a tenant farmer raising tobacco and marrying a white woman. Some of his descendants ended up as "whites" and some as "blacks" and many just ended up a bit puzzled. Joe Mozingo started trying to find out a about his ancestors after being told that Mozingo was an African name. His family's path through American history illuminates a lot about the evolution of racial classifications and the horrific slave trade. A major irony is the membership in the KKK of some Mozingos.
Setting, characters, story...
The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths (downloadable audio from Listen Up! Vermont). Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist who specializes in old bones and lives in a cottage on the edge of a saltmarsh. She gets pulled into the search for a long-lost child when some bones are found near the marsh. Then a second little girl disappears. There are a lot of good things to be said about this mystery novel: some of the characters are interesting and well-developed, the archaeological aspects make for an unusual background and the setting, in and on the saltmarsh is eerie. However, the mystery, in my opinion was a flop. So don't listen to this book if you want a puzzle.
The Rocks Don't Lie: A Geologist Investigates Noah's Flood by David R. Montgomery. This history of the science of geology tells a surprising story. Many of the pioneering geologists who overturned the "Flood" as the explanation for everything were seriously religious folks and the process of sorting it all out definitely wasn't a simple division between religious fanatics and serious scientists. It is only in the last 100 or 150 years that the division has hardened between creationists and scientists, but the current battle has been projected into the past and distorted our view of the history. Qualifies, in addition, as a good overview of the struggle between uniformitarianism and catastrophism as explanations of geology. Looks like it was both. I do see one serious problem left unaddressed, however. If our planet was shaped by huge catastrophes at certain points, which piled up massive amounts of rocks and sediments very quickly (floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, meteors), then doesn't the timeline of the various ages (Jurrasic for example) get shortened?
Brooklyn in the 1950s
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin (downloadable audio from Overdrive). A gentle, understated story of a young woman who leaves Ireland to find work in the US in the early 1950s. The change from her quiet village to the big-city bustle comes as a shock but Eilis gradually finds her feet, makes some friends, goes to night school and falls in love. An event back home jerks her out of her new life and forces her to question every choice she has made.
Evil on the Thames
Acceptable Loss by Anne Perry (audio CD). From her William Monk series. Monk is struggling with a murder on the river. The difficulty is that the murdered man pimped little boys and then blackmailed the wealthy and powerful men who mistreated them. Who wouldn't want to murder someone like that? A bit too much delving into everyone's psyche in my opinion, but still a suspenseful and complex Victorian mystery novel.
Mayhem in the construction trades
The Concrete Pearl by Vincent Zandri. Ava "Spike" Harrison runs a construction company. Her company is in trouble because she keeps getting hit with accidents and fines. Things can always get worse, though, and a public school job she is doing is suddenly shut down due to asbestos removal problems. Her sub-contractor, who was supposed to be taking care of all that, suddenly disappeared. A fun little mystery, but definitely a lightweight entry.
San Francisco was rowdy in 1894
The Bughouse Affair by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini. Quincannon and Carpenter are partners in a detective agency. Quincannon is after a housebreaker and Carpenter is tracking down a rather nasty pickpocket. Working through their cases takes John and Sabina through a lot of the low-life of old San Francisco. And Sherlock Holmes wanders into the case of the housebreaker, I kid you not! Fun combination of historical novel with the classic private eye mystery--but not particularly noir.
Snow about the Rain Forest
Volcano Above the Clouds: Kilimanjaro-Africa's Tallest Peak (DVD). The glaciers at the top of Kilimanjaro are melting. Is it the hot volcano or global warming? And will the disappearing glaciers make the rainforest on the sides of the mountain turn to desert? Join a group of scientists as they attempt the climb up this most unusual mountain, wending their way through rainforest, into the volcano's crater, past the glaciers and through the snow to the peak.
Some hospitals are very dangerous
Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won't Tell You and How Transparency can Revolutionize Health Care by Marty Makary, MD. This book is very informative and very sad. Makary, a surgeon, describes all the ways in which health care consumers can be injured because the information they need to make informed decision is methodically withheld from them. For example, your doctor could have lost his/her license in multiple states for drug abuse...but there is no national registry of doctor's with problems. The hospital you choose for a particular procedure may only do a few per year, but unless you ask the right questions you'll never know. The nurses at the hospital may go somewhere else when they need an operation, but the survey that gathers this info is not published. A good book. I hope it helps to bring about needed changes.
Wild adventures in Melbourne
Unnatural Habits by Kerry Greenwood. Phyrne Fisher and her "minions" tackle a case of missing young women, some pregnant, some not and find themselves in a bit of a bother. Entertaining, as always, and enriched by the author's exceptional skills at historical research.
The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon (audio CD or book). A break from her long-running series about Guido Brunetti, Commissario in Venice, this novel follows the odd adventures of Caterina Pellegrini, a musicologist hired to investigate the papers in two old trunks. The book consists of: 1) mouth-watering descriptions of food and drink; 2) descriptions of historical research; and 3) some very sharp dissections of the characters. I found it quite entertaining, but I love historical research, and I'm doubtful that this book is to everyone's taste.
Wars of Religion--how quaint!
Heretic Queen: Queen Elizabeth I and the Wars of Religion by Susan Ronald. Elizabeth had the radical idea that the government shouldn't try to control people's thoughts and feelings. She wouldn't have gone as far as proclaiming religious tolerance (an unheard of concept) but she spent many years trying to come up with a "compromise" that would allow people to quietly follow their own religious beliefs. Although the politics of her time defeated her efforts at the time, we could consider her the grandmother of the concept of freedom of conscience in religious matters. An interesting and rather sobering book for those who enjoy reading about political maneuverings.
Life changing gadgetry
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson (audio CD or book). I finally got my hands on the audio edition of this biography. A fascinating story but rather horrifying, too. Is there no middle way between Microsoft (open but sometimes a bit sloppy) and Apple (closed, controlling, but high quality)? Steve sounds like an interesting but utterly exhausting human being.
Why do people die on mountains?
Deadly Ascent (DVD). Mt. McKinley (also known as Denali) is a very popular mountain for climbers but the death rate is high. In this movie we see a medical research team insert core temperature monitors into pills and have climbers swallow them. Then they monitor temperature fluctuations as the climbers hike their way up the mountain. They discover that one climber's core temperature fluctuates rapidly from too high (during exertion) to too low (when he stops to rest). The other climber's core temperature only changes slightly. The fluctuations turn out to be a signal of increasing problems and he finally returns to the base camp instead of trying to make it to the top. There is also some amazing scenery...
A Really Big Construction Project
Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century by Michael Hiltzik (downloadable audio). The mind-boggling story behind the building of an American icon, including dastardly deeds by the contractors, brilliant solutions to intractable construction problems, politics, politics, politics and an unbelievable amount of concrete. I found it both fascinating and horrifying. The most horrifying piece was the brutal disregard for the health and well-being of the workers by the building manager and the contractors. The most fascinating piece was the description of how the actual dam concrete was poured. Highly recommended!
Just don't breath
Everest: The Death Zone (DVD). Just in case anyone was thinking it would be fun to climb Mount Everest, Nova did a special on a scientific study which sent some mountain climbers up Everest to collect data on the effects of high altitude on human health and brain function. Baseline data (literally) was collected at sea level and then more data was collected as the climbers gradually ascended through the series of camps on Everest. One climber almost died during the descent from a cold that turned into an inability to breath. The view from the top is really amazing though...
Florence 1215: start with a party, end with a murder
A Thing Done by Tinney Sue Heath. Disclaimer: Tinney is an old friend of mine. I bought her book for myself and decided it was definitely good enough for the library. The book begins with a feast where a small group of entertainers are participants and observers. One of the nobles ropes in the jester to grab some food from the table and this "jest" turns into a fight, which turns into a forced marriage which turns into a vendetta...an excellent transformation of the bare bones of a story in the chronicles into a lively novel. Incidentally. the "nobles" carry a certain resemblance to the mafia...
National Geographic Bizarre Dinosaurs (children's DVDs). I like dinosaurs. Big, funny-looking and some have lots of teeth. This movie tries to figure out why some dinosaurs had very odd appendages--for defense, for attack or for attracting mates? Included as a bonus is a second full feature about the South American "Terror" bird, a giant, flightless bird that raced around hitting prey on the head and devouring them. Luckily this critter is now extinct.
A bookstore, a flood and a miracle
The Bridge by Karen Kingsbury (audio CD or book). For many years Charlie has run a new and used bookstore in the town of Franklin, Tennessee. A flood destroys the bookstore and Charlie can't find the funds to rebuild or restock. He is faced with the loss of his life's work. Meanwhile, two people whose lives were enriched by the bookstore are also faced with large questions about their future. An enjoyable story--however it is a bit sweet and also includes overtly Christian themes.
Murder in France
Night Watch by Linda Fairstein (audio CD or book). Obviously, prosecutors should never take a vacation. Alexandra Cooper is in France visiting her lover, Luc Rouget, when a dead body turns up in a pond. You'd think that bad enough, but then a hotel maid accuses a very important man of rape and Alexandra's boss hauls her back across the Atlantic to deal with the case. As always, entertaining, gripping and a bit educational. This time the educational theme is the great restaurants of Manhattan, so there are some amazing eats.
Digging up mummies
Egypt's New Tomb Revealed (older juvenile DVD). I don't usually review children's material, but I'm fascinated by history. This Discovery Channel DVD takes us to the Valley of the Kings where the first new tomb discovered since King Tut was found in 2006. There were a number of puzzles to unravel...
Bookkeeping frames reality
Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance by Jane Gleeson-White. From my study of history I knew that double entry bookkeeping came on the scene in the Renaissance in Europe although it may have originated in India. The rest of the story was a complete surprise, especially the fact that the methods used to develop the Gross Domestic Product are based on the foundation of bookkeeping. There are a number of problems with our current system of measuring success or failure on a personal, national and international level and one of the largest is the exclusion (for the most part) of environmental and human costs from the equation. An important book!
Character Actor's Paradise
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens (DVDs). I read this many years ago in college and enjoyed it in a horrified way, especially the Circumlocution Office, Dicken's cruel attack on government bureaucracy. This was originally a TV series and runs a total of 452 minutes or 7.5 hours. It is a great story (although a bit incoherent in places) and a glorious showcase for an amazing ensemble of British character actors. Even the leads are characters...and everyone else is just one odd lot after another. Quite entertaining if you have the time (and enough popcorn).
Morocco at War
Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King. Latest in her Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series continues their adventures in Morocco where they become entangled in a rather nasty guerrilla war between the Spanish and Moroccan rebels against colonial rule. The French are ruling the south of Morocco and Marechal Lyautey, a real person and a fascinating character makes a cameo appearance. An enjoyable romp with a few seriously grim bits.
A bit of everything
The Needlecraft Book by Maggie Gordon, Sally Harding and Ellie Vance. A great guide to knitting, embroidery, needlepoint, quilting, crochet, applique and patchwork. Lavishly and meticulously illustrated with step-by-step directions, this book is useful for someone who wants to refresh their skills (I couldn't remember how to do a particular crochet stitch), or for someone who wants to learn a new skill from scratch. Each section includes a project and hints for designing your own stuff from scratch. An excellent reference work!
A miserable time in the Lake District
Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George (audio, book). Part of her Inspector Lynley series. A man dies in a boating accident on Lake Windermere and Lynley is called in to investigate, but in an unofficial way. The wealthy family turns out to be seriously messed up. Everyone has secrets, most of them fairly nasty. A gloomy book with occasional moments of amusement or relief.
Fame and Misfortune
Tribute by Nora Roberts (downloadable audio or e-book plus Joslin has the "book"). Janet Hardy was a very successful actress and performer until her tragic death at age 39. She died at her rural hideaway in Virginia of an overdose of drugs and alcohol. Her granddaughter returns to the farm, planning to restore the house and perhaps settle there, but is plagued by mysterious events. Conveniently, a tall, good-looking and amusing single guy lives across the road. The most entertaining part of the story, for me, were the details of the work on the house. Pleasant escapism.
Strange Years at Bletchley Park
The Secret Lives of Codebreakers: The Men and Women who Cracked the Enigma Code at Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay. There have been a number of books describing how the Brits deciphered the German codes during World War II. This is the first one to look at the day to day lives of the thousands of workers who carried the effort. Mathematicians, linguists, meticulous file clerks and thousands of German readers to translate the mountains of messages, not to mention cooks, gadget builders, and a horde of others were all recruited to work around the clock at a rambling house in rural England. Most of the work was painstaking, boring, exhausting and unending with the added pain of total silence. Except for immediate co-workers, no one was supposed to discuss what they did at work. An interesting book, but a bit disorganized, as books that consist of bits and pieces of information culled from hundreds of interviews often are.
The Hobbit stands Alone
Exploring J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit by Corey Olsen. The movie is going to be released on December 12th, so I was delighted when a patron donated this enjoyable literary digression on the original book. Over the years the Hobbit has become a sort of adjunct to The Lord of the Rings and Professor Olsen makes a gentle effort to peel back some of the layers and restore the original "stand-alone" story. A delightful excursion into a book that has delighted children and adults since it was first published in 1937. Enlightening and amusing.
Catherine and Russia
Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie (book, downloadable audio, downloadable eBook). The perfect book for anyone who likes royal scandals as Catherine had some doozies, including an illegitimate son who inherited the throne of Russia. Her story definitely doesn't build a case for hereditary monarchy or, in fact, for hereditary anything at all. Her husband, Peter, the grandson of Peter the Great, was a mess and totally unsuited to rulership, and one can understand why Catherine thought she should run Russia instead. Catherine was very hardworking but she believed very firmly in autocracy as a system of government and failed to move Russia forward significantly, beyond a moderate expansion of the educated elite. A fascinating story.
The Soldier's Wife by Joanna Trollope. A "problem" novel that works very well as a gripping story. Alexa married a soldier the second time around and thought she could make it work. Now she finds herself with a husband, just back from Afghanistan who loves her but cannot communicate, a teenage daughter from her first marriage who hates having to go to boarding school (because they move so often) and twins. Her hard-won career as a language teacher has disappeared (all that moving) and she is expected to keep up appearances no matter what. As always from this author, a good read that also makes you reconsider what you thought you knew about human relationships.
A fabulous re-thinking of the relationship between recordings and live music
Reinventing Bach by Paul Elie. I thought this sounded like a fascinating book from the reviews and it is. Weaving together the story of Bach as composer and musician with the story of the artists who have played (in every sense of the word) Bach's music and the equipment that has recorded it and spread it worldwide in ever-multiplying formats. Albert Schweitzer recorded Bach in 1935 and Pablo Casals did his first recordings in 1936. Whimsical, serious, profound and sometimes very funny. Highly (very highly) recommended!
Growing up at 36
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty. A charming, lively, uncomfortable book that takes us vividly into 1922, when respectable women still wore corsets and long hair and "flappers" were just beginning to act up and act out. Cora takes on the duty of chaperone to a 15 year old Louise Brooks (the future movie star) who is heading off to New York City to study dance. Cora has her own reasons for wanting to see NYC, despite a quite tolerable life in Wichita. Both of them get more than they expect out of their adventure.
Real life spy sagas
Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies by Ben Macintyre. (Book, audio download, and eBook). Ben Macintyre continues his series of books on covert operations in World War II, tackling one of the most elaborate deceptions ever pulled. What a weird bunch these guys and gals were! One of the oddest bits is that while the Brits were busy tricking the Germans, the Russians had a secret agent in the very heart of the operation. Fortunately, due to Russian paranoia, they were pretty sure that their agent was misleading them, so if there were German spies in Russia, the info they collected would have been very confusing. The story is both fascinating and also a bit creepy. I can see the necessity, but spending years telling elaborate lies seems very wearing...
Calling Invisible Women by Jeanne Ray (audio CD or book). Alas, this book just doesn't quite work. Parts are very entertaining but I think the author was trying to be socially relevant, amusing AND raise some important moral questions and frankly, the book falls way short of those goals. Clover is in her 50s and feels taken for granted. Then she becomes invisible and weeks pass while her son, daughter and husband manage to avoid noticing that she can't be seen any longer, just her empty clothing wandering around putting dinner on the table. Oh well, I guess I have to buy the occasional dud. I won't say "avoid this at all costs" I'll just warn our loyal library patrons to expect some thuds as they wend their way through this book or audio.
High Crime District
King City by Lee Goldberg. Tom Wade was in the Major Crime Unit in King City, a small city out in Washington State. Then he turned state's witness against 7 of his fellow cops and became a pariah in the police force. When the case finally ends the police chief assigns him to a small sub-station in the worst part of the city (a section so bad that it has no police coverage at all and has been left off of the map) with two rookie cops for support. Surprisingly entertaining for a novel set in a very bleak reality...but things work out much too easily...
One thing leads to another and another and another
How it All Began by Penelope Lively. A woman is mugged on a London street, her daughter has to drop her work to sort things out, the daughter's boss goes off to give a talk which he flubs, his niece comes along as a substitute assistant and meets someone it would be better she didn't meet, she sends a text to her lover, whose wife realizes he is having an affair (again) and decides to divorce him and it all turns into a rather funny/sad novel about the wide reverberations of a single forlorn event ripple through a dozen lives. Ms. Lively is an excellent writer and a thoughtful commentator on the human condition. Recommended.
An isolated community...a horrifying murder...secrets
The Righteous by Michael Wallace. A tiny polygamous sect in Utah finds a wife of a church elder brutally murdered. Since they are living outside of the bounds of local law, they call in a young man from the Canadian branch of the sect to investigate. As Jacob digs into the case with the help of his teenage sister he finds that the death is connected to a horrendous plot. The author was raised in a religious sect in Utah and broke away so he may be writing with insider insights. I found the sub-plot involving young men forced out of the sect very interesting. It is an obvious problem with polygamy...too many men and not enough women. An interesting story, but there is some extreme violence.
Weight loss is incidental
The Perfect 10 Diet: 10 Key Hormones that hold the Secret to Losing Weight, and Feeling Great--Fast! by Michael Aziz, M.D. (audio CD). Personally, I don't do diets. My assumption is that dieting is depressing and a nuisance and bad for health. So I just checked this out because I was curious about the hormonal aspect and how it connected to health in general. I was startled to discover that he was covering a lot of the same ground as the Traditional Foods (link goes to a quick summary of this approach, I'm not recommending it) movement from a slightly different angle. To sum it up very briefly, the modern diet is full of fake foods, especially various forms of fat that are dangerous, especially when it eaten in quantity AND we are encouraged to eat low fat foods which are high in the wrong kinds of carbohydrates. The result, according to the author, is hormonal imbalances which result in poor health and weight gain. I think he made this a book about losing weight because publishers won't take on a book that is just about feeling frisky. I'll admit that it was a bit of a pain to listen to because it is very repetitive. Most of what the book needs to say could be covered in about 100 pages. The approach seems worth considering, however. The audio edition includes a bonus disk with a pdf containing all of the charts, diagrams, lists, recipes, suggested menus, food sources and more. The content on this disk is not protected and you can save it to your computer for future reference.
A Wild Adventure
Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff. (downloadable audio or book) I listened to this on my teensy little MP3 player and it was fascinating. I suggest at least skimming the book for the photos if you do the download. Anyway, at the very end of World War II a plane went down in the mountains of New Guinea, in a remote area almost totally out of touch with the outside world. The survivors, two injured, one a woman, faced an incredible struggle for survival. The means of rescue will fascinate anyone who has ever piloted a plane...but I won't give away the remarkable and ingenious solution to what looked like an impossible rescue. Highly recommended!
The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger (book ). Amina is from Bangladesh, George is from Rochester, NY. Via the Internet they decide to get married. There are a lot of misunderstandings, complications, confusions as they settle into some sort of married life in America while Amina struggles to find a way to help her parents come to the US to live. An amazing piece of writing--plain but perfectly tuned to the story!
Stage Play about Lincoln/Douglas Debates available as audio
The Rivalry by Norman Corwin. (downloadable audio) Lincoln was a minor player going up against Stephen Douglas in a Senate race, when Douglas consented to a series of debates. Big mistake! Lincoln proved to be a very tough opponent. Although Lincoln lost in the Senate battle, he ended up winning the presidency. This version is narrated by some excellent performers and includes sound-effects, so it is a lot like listening to a radio play. Quite a good story and very short, so it is a good choice if you need something for a brief trip.
An Early Globetrotting Reporter
Around the World in 72 Days: The Audacious Adventures of Nellie Bly (DVD). I try to season our mostly donated movie collection with a few purchased movies--this is one. Nellie Bly was the pen name of one of the first women reporters in the United States, one who made her reputation as a daring woman who would do almost anything to get a story, including pretending to be mad. In 1889-90 she raced around the world, trying to beat the imaginary record from the famous novel by Jules Verne. She traveled by ship and train for the most part and traveled without a chaperone (very shocking behavior for a respectable lady) and with the absolute minimum of baggage. This brief movie covers her entire life and adventures, but the round the world trip gets a lot of attention. I was fascinated.
A super cold dive
Descent into the Ice: Exploring Mont Blanc's Hidden Glacial Lakes (DVD). In 1892 an unknown lake under the glacier burst forth and killed over 200 people. Today there are still people living at the foot of Mont Blanc and the concern that hidden lakes lurk within and under the glaciers served as impetus for an extraordinary piece of scientific research. Two scientists go beneath the ice, first in a rubber raft and later in "dry suits" looking for a possible lake. Scary--definitely not my idea of fun. Includes some discussion of the effects of climate change on glaciers.
Sideways (DVD). Two guys head out to spend a week together in the California wine country before one of them takes the plunge and gets married. The organizer of the trip, Miles, is still recovering from a divorce, is definitely beginning to feel middle-aged, is a hopeful author when he isn't a depressed author and spends most of his time teach English to teenagers. Jack, the soon-to-be-married guy, is an actor whose career has ended up in commercials and a womanizer. Jack is terrified at the thought of monogamy. Although there are a few funny moments in the movie, it certainly didn't seem like a comedy to me. Except for the wine-tasting. It is very hard to see wine-tasting as anything besides funny.
Road trip to Ireland
The Scottish Prisoner by Diana Gabaldon. (Book or downloadable audio from One Click). This is part of a "side" series to her Outlander series, focusing on Lord John Grey. In this volume, Jamie Fraser plays a major role as the story involves a Jacobite plot and a lot of Irish troublemakers. An excellent historical novel. [Warning, one graphic homosexual encounter.]
Death and Recovery
The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler (book, audio CD, eBook, Kindle book and audio download). Anne Tyler always amazes me with her ability to write serious, thought-provoking fiction that is fun to read. This one is about a young widower who is working through the sudden death of his wife in an accident and trying to figure out what sort of marriage they had, anyway.
Hiding a murder
An Unmarked Grave by Charles Todd. A series mystery set in World War I and featuring a frontline nurse as the main character. Although this was an excellent mystery, suspenseful, complex, with some interesting characters and situations...I'm beginning to tire of this series. I'm not sure why, and feel free to ignore my vague dissatisfaction! Anyway, Bess is in France, dealing with wounds and the Spanish Influenza epidemic when an orderly shows her the body of a man who has been added to the shed filled with dead influenza victims. This man has a broken neck and no identification.
When Dracula was a new thriller...
A Christmas Homecoming by Anne Perry (audio download from Listen Up! Vermont). Looking for a fun little bit of mystery to enjoy? A company of actors heads up to Yorkshire to do a private production of an amateur version of the exciting new novel: Dracula! Part of the original story took place in Whitby, Yorkshire, so it seems to be an ideal place to debut the stage version. Isolated in a huge mansion by heavy snowfall, an uncomfortable mixed group of family and actors struggle to turn a clumsy script into a gripping performance. And then, of course, strange things begin to occur...
What Happened to Hannah by Mary Kay McComas. This book is a bit confused. The author is an experienced romance writer who is trying to move into serious fiction. So some of the book is serious and some of it is fluff. A pleasant light read in some places and a tragic and horrific story in other places. Hannah spent her childhood with a helpless mother and a brutal, alcoholic father. She finally fled. Now she has to return and take responsibility for her niece and face the town that ignored years of violent abuse. That is the serious piece. The other part of the story is meeting, once again, her teenage heart throb, now the town sheriff. I'll admit that I enjoyed the fluff and was impressed by the thoughtful presentation of coping with abuse and the aftermath. But I can see that other readers might just find the book tiresome and inconsistent!
What came after "Amazing Grace"
Sweet Water and Bitter: The Ships that Stopped the Slave Trade by Sian Rees (book). The Act that ended the British trade in slaves passed in 1807. The actual trade in slaves didn't end completely until 1869 when Cuba finally abolished slavery. In the years between 1807 and 1869 the British tried to stop other countries from carrying slaves with very mixed results. A horrifying story, told with a bit too much detail for the casual reader. Unless you really want to know a lot about the history of this struggle, the book is better if you partially skim it rather than try to read every single chapter in full. On the other hand, it is an object lesson in the difficulties of changing an entrenched and profitable culture of exploitation--think for example of the brutal trade in ivory or in some countries, diamonds. Or the modern trade in sex workers, which is thriving, or the other modern trade, in illegal workers, which has its ups and downs, but is also, unfortunately doing quite well.
A Vast Ocean of a Million Stories
Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories by Simon Winchester (audio CD, book). Fascinating stories of the Atlantic Ocean and the human beings who have been struggling with it for thousands of years. Includes one of the most balanced discussions of global climate change that I've ever read. Highly recommended.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (DVD). Well, it is silly, but I found it amusing because of the literary links. The movie is based on a comic book and the comic book is based on the conceit that the characters in Victorian Thrillers were real people. My literary tastes have never been particularly elevated, so I have actually read some of the thrillers referenced in them movie and I was somewhat familiar with the ones I hadn't read. And I think that is all I'll say except that there is also a steampunk element for those who like gadgetry.
Solve one problem, create hundreds more
Energized by Edward M. Lerner. This is almost not science fiction, since most of it is based on current technology and utterly plausible disasters. The largest concentration of crude oil has been contaminated with radioactivity through an "accident" and everyone has been scrambling to find other ways to keep the power flowing. Russia, with a very large number of wells is in the catbird seat. The U.S. has set up a base on an asteroid that was heading towards the earth and was diverted into orbit, instead. Using resources from the asteroid they are building a huge solar energy station in space which will send down energy to earth--and that is when our story begins. The author is very familiar with the workings of both science and government agencies, which makes the book plausible and scary.
Is it science if the data is hidden?
Pharmageddon by David Healy. Nowadays we have something called "evidence-based medicine" and the top of the line when it comes to evidence is the clinical study. Healy describes how it came about that clinical studies have been redesigned to justify the use of the most expensive blockbusters in the broadest possible swath of the population. The system also works very well to miss the side-effects of such drugs. A stellar and well-known example is, of course, Vioxx, where a large number of deaths were missed for years. If you want to look behind the screen and find out why the U.S. has the highest health care costs and some of the worst outcomes, this is the book to read. Okay, I'll admit it is pretty depressing to read, but that is the cost of enlightenment...
Exploring the early years of Christianity
Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation by Elaine Pagels (audio CD). An exploration of the possible intent of the original author (a bit of a mystery) and of the many different interpretations laid upon this text through time. The author also looks at other books of revelation that were extant in the early years of Christianity and then, literally, buried. A stash of such books was discovered at Nag Hammadi (http://gnosis.org/naghamm/nhl.html ) in Egypt and have transformed our understanding of the first years of the Christian era. If you enjoy history or the history of religion you'll probably find this worth listening to.
Is the Rice Cooker the '"fast" slow cooker?
300 Best Rice Cooker Recipes, also Including Legumes and Whole Grains by Katie Chin. I've been wondering if it is worth buying a rice cooker, as I do cook a lot of grains, beans and lentils. The author explains how to use a very basic rice cooker to produce recipes that include many other ingredients besides rice. Some examples: Spicy Fish Stew with Quinoa; Cuban-Style Chicken; Kidney Bean Risotto and many more. The advantages seem to be: one-pot cooking, faster cooking than a slow-cooker and a gadget that is specifically designed not to burn your dinner. Instructions all indicate the minimum size cooker needed and whether you need a really fancy cooker or not. There are a number of recipes that use the steamer basket that comes with some rice cookers, in case you've been wondering what to do with it!
Low fat, one pot, sometimes fast and easy
EatingWell One-Pot Meals: Easy, healthy recipes for 100+ delicious dinners by Jessie Price & the EastingWell Test Kitchen. Just what it sounds like, and the photos are yummy and inspiring besides! There are chapters on salads, wok meals, skillet meals, roasting pan meals, casseroles, slow cooked, and dutch oven.
Fun with fiber and color
Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece by Gail Callahan. (746.6 Cal on the wall shelves). A very thorough book for the serious dyer, but it also contains instructions for getting started using food-coloring items as dyes if you are thinking this might be a fun activity to share with children. The advantage here is that you don't need to be nearly as careful when you are using Easter egg dyes or Kool-Aid as when you use commercial chemical dyes. Lots and lots of different techniques are included and illustrated with step-by step photos. Have fun!
The Adventures of a Very Tall guy from China
The Year of the Yao (DVD). Yao Ming was a basketball star in China and was recruited by the Houston Rockets. He spent several months in the U.S. playing NBA basketball and exploring American culture. This documentary shows his adventures on and off the court. A gentle, good-humored, movie about a tough and demanding sport.
The Middle East in WW II
Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson. Adventures and heartbreak in Egypt and Turkey during World War II. Dom Benson is a fighter pilot who first meets a singer, Saba Tarcan when he is in hospital recovering from a crash. Saba is a singer from Cardiff Bay, Wales, who is desperate to escape from a protective family and become a performer. They both end up in Egypt where Saba is asked to help the British Secret Service (apparently many performers were "moonlighting" as spies) and Dom is trying to do his bit with a tiny number of pilots and planes against what seem like overwhelming German forces. More about the individual struggles to cope with impossible conditions and the bitter intersection of personal, professional and national needs, than about the big picture of the war. She is a good writer.
Maurice Sendak's book turns into a very odd movie
Where the Wild Things Are (DVD). I watched this one because of an internal library debate. Is this a movie for children? After watching it, I would say--yes, but not for very young children and parental guidance is definitely recommended. Unlike the book, the movie deals with some real childhood issues of loneliness, family conflict, violence, monsters (who are both loveable and scary), responsibility and authority. The book is about misbehavior and childhood fantasies of power and control. Personally, I prefer the book. But that is just me.
Time to settle down? How about a marriage broker?
Arranged by Catherine McKenzie. Anne ALWAYS falls in love with spectacularly good-looking men with dark hair and blue eyes. And they always end up leaving her heartbroken and alone. In desperation, Anne turns to an agency that arranges marriages. Which is just the beginning of her adventures. A bit more serious than it sounds, but quite definitely chick-lit.
Becoming Anna Pigeon
The Rope by Nevada Barr (book or audio CD). Ms. Barr returns to the very beginning of Anna Pigeon's career in the Park Service wherein Anna is working as a seasonal employee of the Glen Canyon National Recreational Area. She becomes the target of evil and finds herself in a disastrously bad situation. A great, but creepy story. I like the way Nevada Barr combines thriller scenes with meticulous character development.
Sheer Nutty Escapism with a bit of social content
The Great Escape by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. Loosely connected to some other books by the same author, but she inserts enough background so you won't be lost if you haven't read them all. Lucy runs away from the perfect husband on her wedding day, hopping on a motorcycle with a weird looking dude she met briefly two days earlier. Various adventures follow...her books are tops in the genre.
Women don't really want better "stuff", either
What Women Want (DVD). Mel Gibson plays a charming schmuck who is very good at getting women and really bad at keeping the women he attracts. He works at an advertising agency. He doesn't get promoted because they need to learn how to crack the women's market and hire a whiz-bang (woman) exec. Then he accidentally electrocutes himself and acquires the ability to read women's minds. Silly but entertaining.
Dinosaurs cute and not so cute
Jurassic Park (DVD). Found the right movie this time. To my surprise, this was a better movie than I remembered with some very good acting. I have a lot of doubts about the feasibility of bringing dinosaurs back to life with a bit of DNA. I don't think that DNA actually does quite what they claim it does--there is a little matter of interplay with the environment--we don't know what the oxygen content was, what the available foodstuffs contained and thousands of other details of the environment that shaped and was shaped by the critters. But putting the science aside, it was certainly an entertaining movie. On to Jurassic Park II or perhaps not.
Italian garbage disposal
About Face by Donna Leon (book or audio CD). Excellent, as always. Brunetti finds himself in the midst of a very complicated mess involving garbage disposal, a woman with an extreme facelift, the Mafia, his father-in-law, and the Carabineri. If Ms. Leon's books reflect anything of the real situation in Italy, things are very bad.
Watch out for haunted doll houses
The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White. Melanie is a realtor in Charleston. Melanie sees and hears ghosts. A teenager moves in with her and brings along her dead mother. Then the teen acquires a haunted doll house where the dolls keep re-enacting an old murder...but fear not, in addition to the ghosts there are lots of quirky, sarcastic characters.
Ghosts in Charleston
The Strangers on Montagu Street by Karen White. Third in a ghostly series about old murders and family conflict. Melanie gets landed with the teenage daughter of Jack, who is NOT Melanie's boyfriend. Meanwhile, Melanie's long-divorced parents are getting it on, but then it turns out that Melanie's best friend is getting married and wants her to wear a sort of tunic and bare feet as maid of honor. But the real story is about a haunted doll house AND a haunted guitar. Fun if you like history and ghosts and domestic confusion.
Sibling rivalry rises to insane heights
Rainshadow Road by Lisa Kleypas. I'll admit I thought this one sounded pretty weird. Your sister steals your boyfriend? But it turned out to be a nice bit of beach reading although I didn't actually read it at the beach. The main characters are a glassworker and a vineyard owner and the bits of professional info add depth to the story.
Critters with really big teeth
Jurassic Park III (DVD). I honestly took this one out by accident. I was going to rewatch the original Jurassic Park and grabbed the wrong movie. But it was fairly entertaining. As always, the plot was minimal, the acting moderate and the scenery a bit green...but the teeth were mostly really, really big. Gory in some places. None of the main characters get eaten, just bit players--sigh.
Plantation life with multiple homicides
Woman Without a Past by Phyllis A. Whitney. This seems to be my accidental reading/viewing interlude. I needed to test my MP3 player which had given me some problems, so I went looking at the "always available" collection on Listen Up Vermont! and found a nice little bit of gothic escapism. Silly, but entertaining IF you like family drama set in the South.
Flying teens! Funny girls!
Circus Dreams: A Movie Journey from Mud to Magic (DVD). A totally charming and delightful movie about teens who spend a challenging summer training and touring with Circus Smirkus through the Northeast. Highly recommended!
Mystery with pets
Cats Can't Shoot by Clea Simon. Pru Marlowe has developed a fairy tale ability--she can communicate with animals. This doesn't really help her solve mysteries but it does hugely complicate her love life. The core question here is whether a cat accidentally shot her owner with an antique dueling pistol. Entertaining, but definitely not an amazing achievement in the mystery category.
Sherlock Holmes in a terrible mess!
The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz (audio CD, book). An amazingly good take-off of the original Sherlock Holmes series which captures some of the tone and flavor of the original by A. Conan Doyle. Complex, twisty and in a couple of places, shocking.
Best-dressed and most hated woman (who may not actually have been a woman)
That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba. The story of Wallis Simpson, the woman who cost the King of England his throne, is not quite what I thought it was. This biography makes a beginning at unraveling the facts and the rumors. Fascinating, in a depressing way--her life seemed to me to be largely wasted--and yet it was probably a good thing that Edward VIII gave up the throne. An anti-Semitic monarch in an England heading into World War II was not a good prospect.
Sea battles in the 1600s
A Ship for the King by Richard Woodman. Two books in one, basically. One book is about sailing in and around Britain in the 1600s with some sea battles thrown in. The other takes place largely on land and tells part of the story of Captain Henry Mainwaring, a real seafaring adventurer, who played a crucial role in the founding of the English navy. The character who unites the two aspects of the book is Kit Faulkner, an orphan surviving, barely, on the Bristol waterfront, who is adopted by Mainwaring and becomes his protege. Although I know a fair bit about this period, this was all new and fascinating. An entertaining novel, although the writing style is not super polished.
War 18th Century Style
The Brotherhood of the Sword by Diana Gabaldon (downloadable audio from One Click Recorded Books). A spin-off series from the author of the Outlander series, following the adventures of Lord John Grey as he and his older brother try to clear their father's name, organize a regiment to go and fight in the Rhineland, deal with a wedding and a birth and a new step-brother and sort an unusual automaton. Warning: includes some graphic homosexual sex scenes.
Amazing performance by Meryl Streep
The Iron Lady (DVD). Margaret Thatcher played an amazing role in British politics and on the world stage. The Iron Lady takes a peek behind the public facade. An interesting story about a remarkable woman. It isn't necessary to admire her political positions to enjoy the movie, by the way.
Cambridge, Nazis and the pursuit of peace
A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear (downloadable audio, book). Maisie Dobbs heads off to Cambridge at the behest of the Secret Service and takes a job as a junior lecturer in a newly established college. The college is devoted to the ideal of world peace, but beneath the surface (of course), awful secrets lurk. As always, a pleasant combination of thought-provoking and entertaining.
Covert War in Afghanistan
Charlie Wilson's War (DVD). Funny and horrifying in equal measure--a look at how American governance actually functions--this movie tells the story of an American congressman from Texas ended up funneling millions of dollars in funding to the Afghan resistance against the Soviet invasion. One of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time...
A Navajo Code Talker Tells his own Story
Codetalker: The First and Only Memoir by One of the Original Navajo Code Talkers by Chester Nez (audio CD). I had know there was a group of Navajo who helped create an unbreakable code that was used during World War II. This book tells the full story from the point of view of one of the 29 men who actually created the code and then deployed it against the Japanese. Because the Japanese were absolutely brilliant at codebreaking, the U.S. forces were constantly handicapped by an inability to keep troop movements secret. Navajo was not a written language AND is impossible to master if you don't grow up speaking it, so it was a perfect language to use as an unbreakable code. Chester tells of his life growing up in New Mexico, his years at harsh boarding schools where speaking Navajo resulted in punishment and joining the Marines soon after the U.S. entry into the war. The codetalkers spent the Pacific war in positions directly behind the front lines and under heavy fire much of the time. An amazing story, highly recommended!
Shopping, Acting, and the Big Questions of Life
10 Items or Less: You Are Who You Meet (DVD). Odd little movie about an actor who hasn't done a movie in 4 years and a supermarket check-out clerk who is ready to move on to bigger and better things--like secretary for a construction company. Charming and full of great moments.
Horrifying and funny. Very funny. Very horrifying.
The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating-Heart Cadavers--How Medicine is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death by Dick Teresi. All about the cheerful topic of how the almost dead become organ donors. A good book to read if you are hoping to donate organs because there are definitely some things you can do to protect yourself from being "harvested" prematurely. For example, never die in Washington, D.C. Highly recommended but probably a good book to read while imbibing.
Creative polarity between faith and reason
Aristotle's Children by Richard Rubenstein. Downloadable audio from OneClick (Recorded Books). The extraordinary story of how the works of Aristotle were lost and re-discovered and then "lost" again. The little-known medieval renaissance was largely due to the rediscovery of Aristotle's work which traveled completely around the Mediterranean Sea to be translated into Latin by Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars in Spain. We usually think of the Middle Ages as rejecting reason and science to focus on religion, but there was, in reality, a strong interest in science and philosophy and many scholars who laid the groundwork for modern science. Great fun if you like that sort of thing...
Expert Witness appears for the first time!
The Anatomist's Apprentice by Tessa Harris. Dr. Thomas Silkstone is a young American from the colonies who came to Britain (as many did) for advanced studies. His quiet life of study and dissections is thrown into chaos when a young woman comes to him asking him to determine if her brother was murdered or died of natural causes. The novel is based on a real incident in a real murder case tried in 1781 where an expert witness, an anatomist, was called to give evidence. Lots of dead bodies, some in advanced states of decomposition.
Mary Wollstonecraft solves a mystery
Midnight Fires by Nancy Means Wright. I bought this because the author lives in Vermont and I also thought the premise was intriguing. Mary Wollstonecraft, an early feminist, really did spend a year in Ireland as a governess. The author adds a fictional murder to the mix, but many of the characters are based on real people. A somewhat somber book, but it does give an interesting view into the chaos and catastrophes of 18th century Irish life.
Dunkirk aftermath (with murder)
Season of Darkness by Maureen Jennings. A very somber book, set in England in 1940, shortly after Dunkirk. Inspector Tom Tyler is working in small town Shropshire when a Land Army girl is found murdered under very peculiar circumstances. An internment camp for Germans without proper documents is linked to the murder and complications ensue. Some wonderful characters and a solidly complex plot make this a worthwhile mystery novel.
Tough times in Nineteenth Century Italy
The Nun by Simonetta Agnello Hornby. A fascinating novel about a very young woman (14 when the book begins) and her strange path through life. It is hard for a modern woman to understand why women in the past were so compliant with oppressive social structures and strictures but this story makes it very clear that for most women, even if they woke up and started asking questions, there were no steps to be taken. No way to earn a living, a completely hostile legal system and plenty of people around who were willing to obey orders and go so far as to physically lock up a woman who rebelled. In spite of the overall angle of the story--church is used to confine a woman--the writer is sympathetic to the positive side of the religious life and presents what I felt was a balanced picture of life in 19th century Italian convents.
Does the U.S. need debt counseling?
Comback America: Turning the Country Around and Restoring Fiscal Responsibility by David M. Walker. The author spent a number of years as the Comptroller General of the United States. He has strong opinions on where the country is heading when it comes to the national debt, taxes and expenditures. A book that should encourage serious thought about our overall financial situation individually and collectively.
A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos by Dava Sobel (One Click Recorded Books downloadable audio, book). This is one case where having both the audio book and the physical book is ideal. The middle section of the audio edition is presented as a sort of "radio" drama, with actor's playing the various characters around at the end of Copernicus' life, when he was trying to decide if his great work should be published.. On the other hand the book is filled with wonderful pictures of the people, gadgets, maps and so on that played a role in Corpernicus' life and the aftermath of his great idea. Highly recommended for science and history buffs.
A matter of correspondence!
The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson. A very clever mystery based on the fact that there really is a Baker Street in London and people do try to write to Sherlock Holmes. Reggie and Nigel are brothers, one successful and one having problems. Reggie is an attorney with offices on Baker Street. Part of the lease requirement is sending a form letter to respond to those pesky letters. A beautifully complicated mystery with interesting characters and a fairly believable premise.
A Measureless Peril: America in the Fight for the Atlantic, The Longest Battle of World War II by Richard Snow. One of the best non-fiction books I've read lately. Snow's father fought on a destroyer on the Atlantic and the book is enriched by countless tales of real people coping with horrendous difficulties and amazing adventures. Snow also provides a sound overview of the entire long-running battle between German submarines and the U.S. and British navies. Highly recommended! (On the wall shelves at 940.54 Sno)
The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons. Based on two real life stories, but transformed into excellent fiction, this novel takes off with the tale of the village of Tyneham, confiscated during WW II for army training and joins it together with the experiences of the authors great-aunt, who came from Vienna to England as a domestic servant, but really as a desperate refugee from the Nazi take-over in Austria.
Cave art and secret cults
Murder in Lascaux by Betsy Draine and Michael Hinden. The Dordogne region in France is famous for pre-historic art, for lovely scenery, for beautiful chateau and for great food. This novel includes all of the above and adds in Nazis, Cathars and murder. Not a great mystery novel, but the cuisine makes up for a lot.
A favorite author's collected short stories
A Day in the Life of a Smiling Woman: Complete Short Stories by Margaret Drabble. I've been reading Margaret Drabble's novels for many years and was delighted to see that her complete short stories were being published in a single volume. Very good stories except for one which seemed totally contrived.
Trouble with airplanes
Restless in the Grave by Dana Stabenow (audio CD, book is at Joslin). Dana Stabenow has two series running, one featuring private investigator, Kate Shugak, the other focused on Alaska state trooper, Liam Campbell. This book brings them together into one story which involves a busy little entrepreneur who has been buying up everything in sight and seemed to have a bottomless money pit for new stuff--but then the airplane he is piloting crashes. Entertaining!
What were they thinking?
Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America by Jack Rakove (downloadable audio, always available). Did the founding of the United States of America come about as the result of a cluster of extraordinary geniuses who just happened to turn up at the right time and place, or did these men develop the capacities to respond to the extraordinary times in which they lived. According to Jack Rakove, the answer is both. There were some really smart dudes hanging around at the right time, but the exceptional times in which they lived forced them to tackle some big questions. A very good book, highly recommended to any American history/policy buffs.
A locked room mystery in the woods
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James (book, audio CD, downloadable audio). P.D. James creates a classic example of the locked-room mystery where it seems obvious that only one person could possibly have committed the murder...but did he? Incidentally, most of the characters appeared earlier in a classic novel by Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice. In my opinion, the history/mystery is fairly successful, the reprise of Jane Austen's world less so. But I still had a good time.
Life is all display
At the King's Pleasure by Kate Emerson (book). This is a book which can be read on multiple levels. On a superficial level, it is a fun little story based on the life of a real woman, Lady Anne Stafford. She is supposed to have graced the beds of both Henry VIII and the King's friend, William Compton, in addition to being married twice. Filled with pageantry, intrigue, politics and courtly drama. Digging a bit deeper, the book is about the struggle between pride and submission, and also the contrast between the outward display of wealth and the pleasures to be found in the quiet life of family and everyday responsibilities. Finally, for anyone interested in economic life, the huge waste of resources needed to keep a king entertained is mind boggling. Not that running a republic has turned out to be all that cheap!
Tracking down the guy who moved us on from Roman Numerals
The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution by Keith Devlin. You learned about it in school. People used to use Roman Numerals and then at some point during the early Renaissance they made a switch to Arabic numbers and doing arithmetic got easier. This simple narrative hides the extraordinary work of a very bright man, now called Fibonacci, but actually named Leonardo of Pisa. I found the book fascinating (of course I'm a history wonk) except for the examples of Renaissance arithmetic problems. And there are probably lots of people who would hate the history and love the arithmetic! Leonardo's forgotten work laid much of the foundation for the modern world and I'm glad someone dug through the archives and figured out "who done it!"
Western set in Australia
Quigley Down Under (DVD). Entertaining as long as you don't mind a lot of dead bodies. Matthew Quigley, an American sharpshooter takes a job with an Australian who owns a huge spread. When Quigley discovers the landowner is looking for someone to shoot Aborigines he gets upset and finds himself beaten up and dumped out in the desert to die.
Downstairs at Balmoral
India Black and the Widow of Windsor by Carol K. Carr. Pure escapism! The heroine is the owner of a brothel who moonlights as a British agent. She gets sucked into pretending to be the maid of an elderly marchioness and heading off to Balmoral to prevent Scottish nationalists from assassinating Queen Victoria. Yes, it is just as silly as it sounds, but entertaining if you like that sort of thing.
Art and Deceit
After the Auction by Linda Frank (downloadable audio). Lily Kovner is an affluent widow who writes magazine articles on the side. She attends an auction of Jewish art objects as part of an assignment and is shocked and amazed to see a Torah plate which was stolen from her family in Vienna during the Nazi era. She finds herself in pursuit of her own past in addition to navigating a mystery about the missing plate. This is a first novel and there are definitely some thin places in the plotting and the writing. On the other hand, the theme of art looting, particularly of Jewish art, is fascinating and she does a good job of presenting that aspect of the story. I'll give this one a mixed rating!
Let's Pretend (to be an army)
Ghost Army of World War II by Jack Kneece. Back in November we had a library program featuring Tom Roche who served with the "Ghost Army" a super secret group of special troops whose specialty was pretending to be other army units. They used inflatable tanks, trucks and artillery pieces, sound systems, fake insignia and all sorts of other clever ruses to convince the Germans that they were facing large forces. Jack Kneece is unfortunately not a great writer, but the story transcends the limits of the author. Well worth reading if you like unusual war stories.
In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson (audio CD, book, downloadable audio, downloadable Kindle, downloadable ebook). William E. Dodd, an unassuming history professor, was appointed ambassador to Germany in 1933. Larson describes what he and his family found during their years in Berlin. In addition to the horrors of dealing with the Nazis, Dodd also had to deal with the ingrown prejudices of the upper class clique that ran the State Department. A fascinating and horrifying book.
The Silver Lotus by Thomas Steinbeck. A mythological story set in a sort of alternate universe where a sea captain from Nantucket and the beautiful daughter of a Chinese merchant are able to marry, sail the seas together, and then settle in Monterey. Lady Yee, in addition to being beautiful, is incredibly wise and good and devotes her immense wealth to quietly improving the world. In spite of being a very odd book, I found it enjoyable and sort of weirdly fascinating.
Poor Little Rich Girl
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin (downloadable audio). Cora Cash is very rich with an indulgent father who has affairs on the side and an implacable mother who pursues social supremacy at all costs. Her mother decides that an English title is the next item on the agenda and drags her daughter off in pursuit. Capturing the title turns out to be the easy part. The best character in the story, in my opinion, is Bertha, Cora's "colored" maid, who navigates the complex social strata below stairs with a cynical good sense.
Icelandic echoes of Mordor
Where the Shadows Lie by Michael Ridpath. Magnus Jonson was born in Iceland but ended up in the U.S., working in Boston as a detective. His boss sends him to Iceland to get him out of the way of a hired killer and also to offer some help to the Icelandic police force--they want to upgrade their skills. Once in Iceland he finds himself investigating the murder of professor which involves a lost saga, an enchanted ring, and some letters written by Tolkien. Excellent entertainment and I hope to read more by this author. (note, you don't have to be a Lord of the Rings fan to follow the story)
Escape to Italy
Under the Tuscan Sun (DVD). Loosely based on the book by Frances Mayes, but only very, very loosely. Pictures of food but no recipes. Nevertheless, a charming and delightful and very entertaining movie.
Whodunnit in Aix-en-Provence
Death at the Chateau Bremont by M.L. Longworth. If you like your mysteries with lovely scenery, fine food and wine, romantic confusion and a bit of misdirection, you'll enjoy this one. Funny, too.
Flowers as a path to redemption
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (downloadable ebook or downloadable audio or book). Victoria is a young woman who was bounced from foster home to foster home and finally ends up living in a public park. At one foster home the "mother" introduced her to the Victorian conceit that flowers could be used as a language. Each flower is supposed to have one meaning. This began Victoria's fascination with flowers and gradually leads her into flower arranging as a career. An enjoyable book, but a bit too tightly confined by the flower language concept. Oh well!
We've got large print books
You can find them on top of the bookcase which backs up against my desk. I return one group and gather up another pile about once every 3 or 4 months. The books are listed in the catalog and do include some titles that are not in our regular collection. We also have a very small collection of large print books which we own. You can find them in the same location.
Here are the books we currently have on loan from the Special Services Department:
Heartwood by James Lee Burke
The Aloha Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
Coma by Robin Cook
Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell
Summer on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber
No Safe Place by Richard North Patterson
No Graves as Yet by Anne Perry
The River Knows by Amanda Quick
I can borrow particular books in the large print format. Just ask!
Birth of Democracy
The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization (DVD). This PBS home video is beautifully done and surprisingly entertaining for an "educational" piece. It tells the story of how Athens created the first democratically run city state, how they beat the Persians at Marathon (side note: the runner actually traveled 140 miles in two days, the shorter distance now used for the "marathon" is the mileage from Marathon to Athens), how Athens became rich and powerful and successful AND how they blew the wad in a war against Sparta.
Two faces of war
Tides of War by Stella Tillyard. Richly detailed and imaginative account of the struggle in Spain during the Napoleonic Wars. The main characters include Wellington, his wife Kitty, Nathan Rothschild (the banker) and Frederic Winsor who created the first gas lighting utility. The novel moves back and forth between London and Spain as the larger war between nations is echoed by various power struggles between individuals. Very good!
Will our future be poor, dark and cold? Or perhaps not...
Reinventing Fire: Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era by Amory B. Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute. Energy is the great challenge of our time. Nuclear, oil, solar, wind, hydrogen, conservation, natural gas--is there any one clear path forward? This unusual book takes up all of the questions in 6 sections: Defossilizing Fuels; Transportation: Fitter Vehicles, Smarter Use; Buildings: Designs for Better Living; Industry: Remaking How we Make Things; Electricity: Repowering Prosperity; and a final section on how to make the best choices going forward. Each section provides detailed analysis of the various options, pointing out problems and challenges, advantages and disadvantages of all of the potential choices. The book is business oriented and focused on good business decisions and where to invest, personally and as a society, for the best energy outcomes. I finished reading it in a state of bemused surprise. There are a lot more choices ahead than I had realized.
The art of the impossible in politics
Lincoln and the Border States: Preserving the Union by William C. Harris. As a child, studying American history, I was horrified when I discovered that the Emancipation Proclamation didn't apply to slaves in states that had remained in the Union. It was obvious to me that Lincoln was a hypocrite! As an adult, studying European history, I wondered what happened to all the defeated revolutionaries after 1848. I knew many had come to the US and thought, in passing, that they must have played a part in the Civil War, most likely on the Union side. This book does a brilliant job of explaining why Lincoln was conciliatory to slave owners in the border states: Delaware, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri. It describes the role of the German immigrants in St. Louis, Missouri, where they provided vigorous support to the most radical anti-slavery arm of the Republican Party. The book is a bit of a heavy slog, but for anyone who is really curious about the political battles (passions were very high on all sides in the North) during the Civil War, it is worth the effort.
Multiple Personality Disorder Unveiled
Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case by Debbie Nathan. An utterly fascinating book which digs through the intersection of three women and the creation of the book Sybil. I couldn't put it down! This would be a great read for a book club (but you could wait until it is available in paperback) and should provoke some interesting discussions about the ever-expanding list of mental health diagnoses.
Mosquitoes or 40 below
Travels in Siberia by Ian Frazier (downloadable audio). Fascinating. A bit long-winded in the descriptions, but mostly very entertaining and enlightening.
Death Qualified by Kate Wilhelm (audio CD). I'm a huge fan of Kate Wilhelm, who writes, in my opinion, complex and subtle mysteries. This is the first in her series about Barbara Holloway, reluctant lawyer daughter of a successful lawyer father in Eugene, Oregon. Her father convinces her to come home and help him out with a very tricky murder case that looks very obvious. Nell must have shot her estranged husband. No one else could have done it. As Barbara digs into the case more and more peculiar connections turn up. This book is a bit crazier than the later books in the series, just to give everyone fair warning!
Country House Mystery set during World War I
A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd. Bess Crawford is the daughter of a Colonel, and a battlefield nurse who keeps getting sucked into the odd murder case. This one involves an unhappy family, a mysterious orphan and a very clever murderer.
Back to basics
Castaway (DVD). Very busy globetrotting Fed Ex expert suddenly finds himself marooned on an island in the Pacific with no clocks, no gadgets, not even a pager. His struggle to survive and escape forces him to reconsider his life choices.
Elizabeth and Walter
Elizabeth: The Golden Age (DVD). A dramatization of the middle part of the reign of Elizabeth the I of England, this movie combines splendid settings and costumes with some very good acting. Warning, includes some scenes of torture.
Trinidad to New York City
Minding Ben by Victoria Brown. First novel, slightly autobiographical as such novels often are, but very, very good. Grace arrives in NYC, 16 years old, hoping to stay with relatives while she goes to high school. Instead she finds herself working as a nanny and struggling to survive. Funny, sad, crazy look at the underside of the American Dream.
Action! Camera! Pirates!
Pirate King by Laurie R. King. After a couple of much more serious novels involving danger and evil, Laurie King has produced a light-hearted romp involving a film crew doing a movie about a film crew doing a movie of the Pirates of Penzance. On location in Portugal and Morocco. For fans of the series which began with The Beekeeper's Apprentice.
A Political Life
James Madison by Richard Brookhiser (downloadable e-book). An enlightening biography of a brilliant thinker who is consistently overshadowed by the other Founding Brothers, particularly Jefferson. Madison played an essential role in writing and justifying our Constitution, was an active player in politics for most of his life and eventually became our 4th President. I found this biography informative and it cast a new light, for me, on the War of 1812 and the burning of the public buildings of Washington, D.C.
History Light and Lovely
The White Countess (DVD). Shanghai in the 1930s, a rich, lush, varied international city filled with refugees. As the Japanese threat inches closer, a blind American expatriate starts a night club called the White Countess with a real Russian countess as his centerpiece. Includes some amazingly good acting, but it is all a little bit too lush and beautiful for my taste.
Run a convenience store and sort out your identity
My Korean Deli: Risking it all for a Convenience Store by Ben Ryder Howe (audio CD). A painfully funny memoir details Ben's experience of simultaneously helping out his Korean wife and in-laws with purchasing and running a convenience store in Brooklyn while working at the Paris Review. I'll never treat our local convenience stores casually again! What a crazy, impossible, challenging, scary business model.
Drug Regulation...a joke?
Blood Feud: The Man Who Blew the Whistle on One of the Deadliest Prescription Drugs Ever by Kathleen Sharp. A heartbreaking true story describes the experiences of two drug reps (eventual whistleblowers) working for Ortho (part of Johnson & Johnson) pushing a wonder drug called Procrit. Procrit is still on the market despite studies done in Europe showing that it acts as a stimulant for cancer cells and increases the death rate in patients on the drug.
Murder/Suicide or is someone being framed as a pedophile?
Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark. Los Angeles Prosecutor tries to clear the name of her murdered friend, found dead in very suspicious circumstances. Good first mystery novel by a real life lawyer.
War Technology upgrade 332 B.C.
Alexander the Great and the Catapult (DVD), from The History Channel. Alexander, aged 20, was en-route to conquering the Persian Empire, but the island city of Tyre stood in his way. This film explains how he used the torsion catapult, a new weapon at the time to destroy the city walls. He also used engineering techniques to build a causeway from the mainland to the island.
The Dog Who Came in From the Cold by Alexander McCall Smith (audio CD, book). I think that people either enjoy McCall Smith or they don't. If you like his books, this one follows the usual formula that he developed for his 44 Scotland Street series of brief chapters following various characters who are linked (sometimes remotely) to a particular address. This series is connected to a small apartment building in Pimlico (London) called Corduroy Mansions. Because the chapters are first published in a newspaper, there is a certain amount of repetition as the author brings you up to speed on what was happening the last time the particular group of characters was up front. I find his books very soothing and enjoy them when I want to just relax. The only thing I find irritating is his parody of new- agers and alternative beliefs. Alas, nowadays, staying in the mainstream is no defense against being lied to or ripped off.
The Second Chance (DVD). One city, two churches. The suburban church is big and rich and fancy, a sort of mega-church. Back in their early years this church sponsored an inner city church and they still donate lots of money to help...but nowadays people think it is too scary to actually go to the inner city and lend a personal hand. A young pastor riles up the board and is sent off to work among the scary people. Not bad, and definitely not dogmatically "religious". I enjoyed the story (although some of the acting is a bit weak) and the themes made me think. I miss Chicago sometimes because of the social, ethnic, religious and financial diversity. We've got the financial diversity in Vermont, the rest not so much.
Do Not Write a Successful Self-Help Book!
The Answer Man (DVD). Arlen Faber wrote a bestselling book called "Me and God". This turned out to be a terrible mistake as it developed a huge following and Arlen ended up going into hiding to avoid his fans. His life cracks open as he encounters a book store owner who is struggling with some really bad stuff and a young woman chiropractor who is trying to establish a new practice and care for her son. Sweet and funny.
Breaking and Entering
Suspicious death in Venice
Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon (audio CD or book). A widow dies and the circumstances are faintly suspicious. A few oddities in her apartment convince Guido Brunetti that he needs to dig deeper. Meanwhile, his superiors want to hush up the case (we don't want to worry the tourists) and almost everyone that the Commissario talks to seems to be trying to conceal something. As always, very entertaining and thought-provoking.
Fun with spaceships and aliens...but the human beings are a mess.
Leviathans of Jupiter by Ben Bova. Jovian lifeforms, deep in Jupiter's ocean, are much puzzled by a tiny visitor with odd behaviors. Twenty years later, on a space station orbiting Jupiter, a group of human beings are preparing for a second manned mission into the deep ocean. Someone doesn't want the mission to succeed. -Note: This book is not available through ListenUp Vermont, but several other titles by Ben Bova can be found as downloadable audiobooks.
Family growing pains
Daughters-in-Law by Joanna Trollope. Anthony and Rachel have three grown-up sons. The first two daughters-in-law cooperated with Rachel's management of the family, but the third one, Charlotte, wants to go her own way. The most difficult son, Ralph, proceeds to have a major work crisis which precipitates a family crisis and then all of the established arrangements and relationships throughout the entire extended family shift. Good story.
Columbian Exposition 1893 and the serial killer--what a combination!?!
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson (downloadable audio, downloadable ebook and regular old-fashioned book-book). I'm so glad I finally got around to listening to this book. An utterly fascinating story of a brilliant and determined man who managed, against incredible odds, to erect the amazing Columbian Exposition of 1893: Daniel Burnham. As a counterpoint, we get the story of the charming and terrifying Herman Webster Mudgett, alias H. H. Holmes, a very successful mass murderer. Holmes was incredibly good at sweet-talking women and the result was almost always deadly. Great book!
Churchill's War Lab: Code-Breakers, Scientists, and the Mavericks Churchill Led to Victory by Taylor Downing. Many pieces of this story have been told. This is the first over-view of Churchill's delight in technology and ingenuity and the role it played in the Allied win over the Germans. A fascinating and strange story.
Cooking and Transformation
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister (audio CD). Lillian has a successful restaurant, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. She runs a monthly cooking class and the eight students who join the class get a lot more than they expected. For people who love cooking and eating and thinking about cooking and eating and fantasizing about cooking and eating. There is also a bit about love and work and marriage and child-raising.
Dinosaurs to Cave Men
The Prehistoric Collection: From Dinosaurs to the Dawn of Man (set of 8 DVDs). Hours of wild entertainment, alternating between dinosaurs killing one another and scientists talking about dinosaur teeth, brains, bones and armor. The final two disks look at human pre-history: the first considers the 5,000 year period in Europe when Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal co-existed, the second considers some of the mysteries about the early human inhabitants of North America. Mysteries about origins (they probably didn't come from Siberia) and mysteries about how they survived a possible comet strike and severe climate change.
As someone who has been interested in evolution and geology for a long time, I was fascinated to note that there has been a shift from a view of geological history as consisting mostly of slow and gradual changes to a view involving lots of exciting catastrophes. Catastrophes definitely make better TV viewing. But there was a question that was not addressed in any of the programs: If many geological changes were actually sudden and drastic, perhaps the timeline of the past needs to be recalculated? The many millions of years currently allowed for various geological periods were originally based on gradual change.
This particular set can be a bit boring as there are a lot of repeats (probably around commercial breaks), and much of the footage of dinosaurs is reused over and over and over in different programs. But it is perfect for working your way through a big craft project and some kids would probably enjoy watching dinosaurs eat each one another.
Tibet and China
Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero by Stephan Talty (Book or downloadable audio book). I thought I sort of knew what happened in Tibet, but discovered that my ignorance of modern Tibetan history was complete. An excellent account of the Chinese takeover in 1959 and the Dalai Lama's successful escape to India. An extraordinary story and well worth reading.
Very rich and a bit loopy
The Aviator (DVD). Based on the life of Howard Hughes, a young man who was brilliant, a bit odd, very wealthy and fascinated with airplanes. He came to Hollywood in the 1920s and started making movies, moved into designing airplanes and manufacturing them, had affairs with movie stars, including Katherine Hepburn and eventually began a slow descent into an extreme state of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The movie focuses on the first half of his life and it is an amazing story.
Buy a house? Get married? Choose a college?
The Real Cost of Living: Making the Best Choices for You, Your Life, and Your Money by Carmen Wong Ulrich. Life isn't just about money, although it is pretty darn important. This unusual little book reviews the financial and non-money related costs for many of life's major decisions. I got some useful clues from the book for my own life and finances.
Murder at midnight in Venice
A Question of Belief by Donna Leon. Downloadable audio or book. I listened to the audio edition which was well-read and evocative. If you haven't tried this mystery series, please do. They are set in Venice. The main character is a Commissario in the Questura of Venice, which means he investigates crimes. It also means that he maneuvers his way through a web of corruption, social climbing superiors, bizarre rules and the challenges of moving through Venice. The murder in this book is of a man that everyone describes as "good" and yet he was entangled with some legal shenanigans...
Ridiculously Simple Furniture Projects: Great Looking Furniture ANYONE Can Build by Spike Carlsen. I brought this book to my son-in-law who builds stuff occasionally and apologized because I thought it was probably too basic. He looked through it and got very excited at some of the ideas. Then he explained that the book is full of clever work ways for people who don't have much in the way of fancy woodworking machinery to build stuff that looks fairly complicated. For example, he shows you how to build an attractive television console with doors and stuff. Looks really snazzy. But it all starts by buying a 36-in. wide wall cabinet and then adapting it for another use. The book has 38 projects altogether including shelving, tables, chairs, toy chest, coffee tables, a kitchen cart and many more. Some are small and quick, others would take a fair bit of time. Interspersed are helpful explanations about tools and methods which will speed the work and keep it safe.
Sweet, gentle and sad
Marilyn Hotchkiss Ballroom Dancing & Charm School (DVD). A car accident leads a grieving widower to a dancing school and to a reawakening to life's possibilities.
Divorce is NOT a laugh fest
Deep Down True by Juliette Fay (audiobook on MP3 disk). I decided it was time to try listening to one of the books on MP3 which have been donated over the last couple of years. My DVD player can handle them but it turned out to be a pain because of having 87 sections and no way to get there but hitting the navigation button over and over. I think that transferring the book into a computer or MP3 player would be better. The story? A divorced mother struggles with money problems, unhappy children, resentment against her former husband and his new girlfriend. On top of this pile, she has some tricky issues with friends and possible lovers. Entertaining but definitely not deep.
Science Fiction or the Real Future?
How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate by Jeff Goodell. A balanced and thoughtful exploration of some ingenious ideas for dealing with global warming. Anyone up for causing plankton blooms to sequester carbon? How about whitening clouds to reflect back sunlight? Or creating some artificial shade by faking a few volcanoes? All real ideas that real scientists have been exploring. A fascinating book of interest to anyone concerned with our collective future.
Sort of Noel Coward
Easy Virtue (DVD). An early melodrama by Noel Coward is transformed into a sort of comedy. Great acting by some of the usual brilliant British crew: Colin Firth, Kristin Scott Thomas (as the mother-in-law from hell), and Jessica Biel as the American bride. Not really a period film, more like a spoof...but not quite that, either. See it for the performances, not the plot.
Razzle Dazzle with Jazz
Chicago (DVD). Entertaining but morally edgy movie follows two women who commit murders in 1920s Chicago and their slick lawyer who specializes in (for a fee) getting women out of jail free. Lots of singing and dancing.
Jane Austen's take on the Gothic Novel
Northanger Abbey (DVD). Quite an entertaining transformation of the book into a movie. It is many years since I reread this novel and the movie pushed me back to the book to see what they changed and why. I'll admit that the book is better, of course, but the movie manages to convey the nature of the characters effectively and that counts for a lot.
Small boats conquer the Atlantic
Viking Explorers: The History Channel (DVD). Along with our entertainment movies the library has a number of educational movies and they are great, IMO. Shorter, which can be fun, and a good adjunct to reading. For example, we recently acquired a book by a Vermont author: The Far Traveler which is about a Viking woman who lived in Iceland, Greenland and North America. Watching this movie is a nice adjunct to reading the book or reading the book is a nice addition to watching the movie.
And finally, the audio version
Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon (audio CD or book). I read this as a book when it first came out back in 2007 and decided to listen to it, just as a bit of pleasant escapism. Worked better than I expected, as I had forgotten most of the plot and all of the details. Set along the Silk Road somewhere around 950, the story focuses on two Jewish adventurers, Amram, from Ethiopia and Zelikman, originally from Regensburg. They become entangled with a teenage prince from Khazar whose family has been deposed and murdered. Wildly entertaining and completely unlikely, but who cares? There is an afterword read by the author.
Fiber fanatics dream book
The Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook: More than 200 Fibers from Animal to Spun Yarn by Deborah Robson & Carol Ekarius. I borrowed this from the Regional library and we'll have it for about 3 more months. If there is a lot of interest I'll buy a copy, but it is a big, expensive book so I'm waiting to see. The book is invaluable for handspinners, of interest to serious knitters and very useful to anyone who raises fiber bearing animals. So, you have a flock of sheep you are using for meat or milk and you are wondering if you could also sell the fiber. The book covers all of the common breeds and many of the more unusual breeds, plus some other varieties including Yaks and many camelids. There is detailed information on the particular qualities that handworkers look for in fleece, so it would be helpful for anyone who wants to improve fiber production by management or breeding. A fascinating read for anyone interested in the history of human beings and domesticated animals.
As twisted as they come
The Fifth Witness by Michael Connelly (audio CD, book). Mickey Haller is doing foreclosures to keep the cash flowing. One of his clients is accused of murdering her banker and Mickey and crew are back in business doing a criminal defense case. Innocence is not relevant of course, but Mickey sees pointers that indicate that his client was set up to take the fall for the murder. I particularly enjoy Connelly because I lived in Los Angeles for many years (in my long ago youth) and I remember many of the places his characters travel through.
Old pleasure from the paperback collection
Requiem for a Wren by Nevil Shute. I went digging through the paperback collection to find some books to take on vacation and found this old gem. Shute almost always tackled some sort of social question in his books. This one is about the aftermath of war and the struggle to re-adapt to civilian life. Quite good. Note: paperback collection books are not in the catalog and can be taken out without the use of your library card.
Is it an immigration problem?
Heaven is High by Kate Wilhelm. Barbara Holloway has been lying low and taking care of minor legal matters for neighbors, when she finds herself in the middle of a case involving an illegal immigrant/refugee. Very good!
Mostly Martha (DVD). German with subtitles. Martha is a chef. Martha is interested in nothing but food. Martha cooks for a restaurant and the owner only keeps her on because she is brilliant. And then Martha suddenly finds herself with her niece, 9 years old, to raise. Martha also finds her new Italian co-worker a bit of a pain because he is sweet and funny and just as obsessed with food...
Alexander McCall Smith starts ANOTHER series
Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith (audio CD or book or e-book). Apartment building in London provides McCall Smith with a lively cast of characters, and he doesn't hesitate to pull in their employers, friends and relatives, either. The best character is, however, the dog, who lost his job as a drug sniffer at Heathrow when the higher ups decided to equalize the dog staff between male and female. I'll rate the MP, Oedipus Snark, as the second most memorable character.
Try out downloadable audio on our Zen Mosaic MP3 Player
We'll be happy to help you figure out how it works, plus it comes with an instruction sheet. You will need a home computer and some earphones or ear-buds. Listen Up! Vermont currently offers hundreds of audio and e-books (you need a computer and/or a reader) and all content is Free!
Definitely Not Vermont!
I feel Bad About My Neck: and Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron (audio CD or Book or downloadable audio). Funny (mostly) but it made me very glad I live in rural Vermont and not in New York City.
Old but very good!
Pride and Prejudice (DVD). We finally got this in DVD format. This version has some bonus bits with various participants talking about the process of creating the series and the public response at the time. Delightful!
Persuasion (DVD) I found a good deal on the BBC versions of Jane Austen's novels. This one was just okay, but I've never seen a good movie version of this book. It is a mature, inward, complex novel and very hard to bring to the screen. There are some lovely scenes and I enjoyed some of it!
Sense and Sensibility (DVD). This one was great! Followed the novel closely without being slavish about it, excellent acting and lovely scenery, settings and costumes. Includes, on the second disk, Miss Austen Regrets, a brief biographical interlude focusing on Miss Austen's relationship with her niece Fanny.
Mysterious journey through the Pyrenees
The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse. A young Englishman, touring through the French Pyrenees, has a puzzling encounter with a beautiful young woman who disappears. His search has an unexpected outcome and uncovers an ancient tragedy.
London addresses can be complicated!
The Brothers of Baker Street by Michael Robertson. This is a sequel, but it isn't hard to follow the story. Reggie Heath is renting 221B Baker Street for his law offices. The lease comes with a requirement that they reply to all of the letters which arrive addressed to Sherlock Holmes using a standard form letter. Reggie gets recruited to handle a murder case involving a London Black Cab and his life spins utterly out of control. Very entertaining!
Different View of Jane Austen's Novels
A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz. William sounds like an utterly tedious young man when he begins his story as a graduate student. Thanks to a professor who forced him to read Emma he began to wake up to his own self-centered and pretentious state of mind. Over the next few years he read all six of the famous novels and, coincidentally, grew up. I could easily do an advanced degree on these novels, which I've been reading for roughly 50 years, but this book offered insights into the books which surprised me.
Stager comes undone
Best Staged Plans by Claire Cook (audio CD). Sandy Sullivan stages homes for frustrated home sellers, sweeping away clutter, choosing the colors that buyers fine irresistible and generally knowing exactly how to make everything just right. So why can't she get her beautiful old home cleaned out, cleaned up, and on the market? Light entertainment with useful tips on home management.
Historic Trial Reconsidered
The Eichmann Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt. Why did the Eichmann trial matter? Why was it held in Israel? Was it a fair trial? Ms. Lipstadt manages to cover all the complexities of this historic event in a brief and easy read, part of the Jewish Encounters series.
Think Twice by Lisa Scottoline (audio CD, book ). I listed to the CD version, which is well read and very gripping. However, the high number of most unlikely coincidences, undermined my enjoyment. Bennie Rosato is a successful lawyer. She has a twin sister (Alice) who is a mess and a failure but very clever. Alice decides to murder Bennie and steal all her money by pretending to be her sister for a few days. I guess thrillers all have an overflow of coincidence!
City of Veils by Zoe Ferraris. A sequel to Finding Nouf (recently read by a local book club) is a mystery set in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Although it has all the usual accoutrements of a mystery, including a dead body, a crowd of suspects and layers of motives, the main interest of the story is the opportunity to explore a radically different culture. Very good!
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson (down-loadable audio and book). An entertaining and informative tour of diverse aspects of human life. Bill starts with the country parsonage (built in 1851) where he and his family reside and uses each room to launch into a rambling exploration of health or clothing, or cooking, or servants, or architecture, or sex, and on he goes. Some of the information about poverty and working conditions is pretty depressing, but most of the book is lightly entertaining, education at its smoothest.
Wimsey in the 50s? Hard to imagine.
The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh (based on the characters created by Dorothy L. Sayers). Not a bad piece of work, but trying to bring Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey into the early 1950s (not to mention Bunter) is a bit of a stretch. They are so 1930s... Anyway, Peter's very first case, way back in 1921, involved some peculiar shuffling of a valuable emerald belonging to the Attenbury family. The problem turns up again as the latest Attenbury needs to sell something very valuable to cover death duties and there is an argument about the ownership of the emerald which has spent many years in a bank vault, only going out three times. There seem to be some dead bodies associated with the emerald, too. Entertaining, but cannot compare with the original novels by Sayers.
Witches and Vampires and Daemons?
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (audio CD, book). A most peculiar novel about a reluctant witch whose day job as a historian of alchemy and science is interrupted when she requests and receives an enchanted book from the Bodleian stacks. Suddenly vampires, witches, wizards and daemons are everywhere and her peaceful, studious life is totally overset. I found it possible to suspend disbelief when it came to the magic and the creatures, but the laptops and cell phones that never seemed to need recharging just didn't work for me. Oh well. I will probably read the sequel despite that little oddity.
15 Minutes: General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation by L. Douglas Keeney. Recently declassified materials have made it possible to explore the history of the Cold War in great detail. This book is a brief (relatively speaking) history of the U.S. attempt to create and run a system for wiping out the U.S.S.R. with atomic bombs. My father worked on a project connected with the early warning radar systems which were supposed to protect the U.S. so I was curious to get behind the curtain. Quite a story, but gave me the creeps. Especially the many bombs that just got "lost".
Make it and Sell it--
The Handmade Marketplace: How to Sell Your Crafts Locally, Globally, and Online by Kari Chapin. A cute little book for anyone who likes to make stuff and is wondering about moving from crafting for fun to crafting for income. The book is well organized and designed for browsing and skipping around. If, for example, you already know what you want to make, but need help with pricing, it is easy to just go and read the section in Chapter 3 on pricing. Full of helpful ideas.
Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie (downloadable ebook). Kate is rich and successful and hates doing management consulting. Plus she wants to get married to a rich and successful man and run a business with her husband. After 3 engagements in one year she is feeling frustrated. So her roommate and best friend sends her off to a golf resort in Kentucky to find a rich, successful man that she can stand to marry. As always in such books, there are surprises in store and much hilarity ensues. This was perfect escapist reading while I was going crazy getting ready for the quarterly Library Commission Meeting.
Southern Secrets Fester
The Lost Hours by Karen White (audio CD). Piper Mills had been a champion rider but a nearly fatal accident leaves her depressed and limping. Following the death of her grandfather, Piper discovers a mystery in the past of her grandmother, who is in a nursing home with Alzheimer's and as she digs she discovers a connection to two families, linked to her own by love and a secret horror.
Food, food and food
Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton (book, downloadable ebook, downloadable audio book). A fascinating and horrifying story of an idyllic (but somewhat peculiar childhood) abruptly ended and an accidental career in the restaurant business begun. Ms. Hamilton owns a famous but tiny restaurant in NYC. Her career included many years in catering kitchens, cooking for a summer camp, and lots of life experience including an extremely odd marriage. I couldn't stop reading...
Frothy light romance with a literary touch
Love Letters by Katie Fforde. One of the most entertaining light romance writers around tackles the book trade in England. Owners of a small stately home (upkeep is a challenge) decide to sponsor a literary festival with a bit of a music festival on the side and hire an English graduate whose book store job is disappearing to help rope in the authors. She is sent to Ireland to rope in a reclusive writer and emotional mayhem ensues. I'm afraid I enjoyed the literary festival aspect more than the romance. I think it is getting to be a stretch to identify with the emotional confusion of a 26 year old...
Deerstalker hat brigade faces a real murder
The Sherlockian by Graham Moore. Sherlock Holmes has, for some unknown reason, produced more obsessive fans than any other detective in history. This mystery is based on a real murder of a real Sherlock scholar who was hunting for some missing papers originally belonging to Arthur Conan Doyle. Moore creates two stories, one, historical, following Arthur Conan Doyle and Bram Stoker as they investigate murders; the other, modern, following two fictional characters as they investigate a fictional murder loosely based on the real murder. Confused yet? The modern story is tongue in cheek, the historical story is painfully serious. I enjoyed it, but I'm not sure this is a book that would appeal to a broad audience.
Precocious detective deciphers mysterious death of puppeteer
The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan C. Bradley (downloadable audio). The second in a series about 11 year old Flavia, a very odd child who uses her knowledge of chemistry and local characters to figure out who killed the puppeteer. Was it his pregnant assistant? The vicar? The BBC executive? The German prisoner of war who has continued working on a local farm? The farmer? The farmer's wife? The madwoman who lives in the wood? As you would expect, the police inspector really doesn't appreciate Flavia's enthusiasm for investigation...
Earthquake! Flood! Pirates!
Red River by Peter Tonkin. This is a book for people who like wild adventure involving boats and gadgets. It is set on the Yangtze River, following an enormous earthquake which causes immense damage and also destroys the Three Gorges Dam. Entertaining, and that is about all.
Silence the Heretics!
Silent Mercy by Linda Fairstein (audio CD, book). Alexandra Cooper is pulled into a very controversial murder case involving churches, theology, fringe religious groups, the ordination of women and a mysterious perpetrator who seems to fly over obstacles. Entertaining, but as usual she gets quite "teachy" in her tour of the NYC churches and theological colleges.
Though Not Dead by Dana Stabenow. The latest in a very long-running series about a woman PI in a remote area in Alaska. One of her elderly relatives dies and leaves her several mysteries to sort out: Who was his real father? Where is the long lost Russian icon? Why do people want to murder her? What did Sam hide at his remote homestead? What does it all have to do with a missing Dashiell Hammett manuscript? Great fun, especially for history buffs.
The Junior Officers' Reading Club: Killing Time and Fighting Wars by Patrick Hennessey. Young man decides to join the British Army, attends Sandhurst, graduates, guards the Royal Family, goes to Iraq, goes to Afghanistan, sees his friends killed and injured, writes a book. Very intimate view of war, violence, masculinity and the attractions of junk food. And books.
A Last Passionate Fling
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson (downloadable audio or book). Does Ernest Pettigrew love his matched pair of hunting guns, his charming house, his quaint village, his son, his books or playing golf? In a great example of the genre of "elderly wake-up call", the widowed Major discovers the charms of an unusual woman, the owner of the village shop, born in Cambridge, but considered a foreigner because she has brown skin and a foreign name. Quite good, but went on a little longer than necessary in my opinion.
Series Takes a Different View of the Universe
This is the one that I read: A Little Book of Coincidence in the Solar System by John Martineau. Others in the series: The Elements of Music: Melody, Rhythm, & Harmony by Jason Martineau; Sun, Moon, & Earth by Robin Lundy; Sacred Geometry by Miranda Lundy; Sacred Number: the Secret Qualities of Quantities by Miranda Lundy. I intend to read the rest as time permits. Fascinating in a strange way.
Murder in Quebec City
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny (audio CD). Number 6 in an excellent series set in Quebec and featuring an eccentric little village near the Vermont border. In this one, Chief Inspector Gamache is haunted by a hostage situation which turned to disaster and left him on leave to heal from a serious wound. He goes to Quebec City to relax with his old friend and mentor and starts history research in an old library. A dead body turns up in the basement, and Gamache gets pulled into the investigation. I've been enjoying this series all along. Unfortunately, Warren doesn't have a complete set. We have four novels as books, 4 as audio CD, and ListenUp Vermont has 5 as downloadable audio. If there is interest I'll track down the missing pieces of the series and fill the gaps.
Saxophone and Love and Success
The Melody Girls by Anne Douglas. A sweet romance about a young woman in Edinburgh who plays the saxophone and would like a career as a musician. She is taken on to play in a swing band, but gets frustrated because the band leader pays women less than men--a lot less. Eventually she and a friend start an all women band. I was hoping for more detail on life as a musician and band leader in the 40s and 50s in Scotland and England, but the book is mainly about Lorna's star-crossed love life. Oh well.
Precocious Puzzle Protagonist
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (down-loadable audio or book). Flavia adores chemistry and specializes in poisons. Then she encounters a dead body in the cucumber patch behind her family home, Buckshaw. The year is 1950, Flavia is 11 years old, and her pursuit of the real murderer (it couldn't possibly be her father), brings her a surfeit of bicycle riding and even some danger. I enjoyed this somewhat tongue-in-cheek mystery novel and may even read the next in the series, which is also available as a download. Should I buy the next book in the series?
Science in the Middle Ages?
The Abacus and the Cross : The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages by Nancy Marie Brown. A few weeks ago Ms. Brown gave a wonderful presentation about her previous book, The Far Traveler, and I bought copies of both of her most recent books for the library. This one tells the fascinating story of Gerbert, who after a long career as a monk, churchman and scientist finished his life as Pope. Ms. Brown is very good at describing the practical foundation of life, explaining how goats and sheep provided skins were turned into parchment and how scientific information and technology traveled from Muslim Spain into Christian Europe in the 900s. The Church politics got a bit tiresome after awhile, but the rest of the book was great.
Your Republic is Calling You by Young-Ha Kim. Ki-Yong leads a quiet life as a film importer and an equally quiet life as a husband and father. In fact, he is a North Korean spy, sent South 20 years earlier. For the past 10 years he has been inactive (his supervisor was purged) and hoping he has been forgotten. Then he gets an e-mail telling him to come "home". A novel that combines gripping suspense with a thoughtful exploration of the human condition AND a portrait of aspects of Korea over the last 40 years.
On the Road with Elvis
Losing Graceland by Micah Nathan. I like to buy a certain number of weird books just to keep a little juice in the collection. This one totally fits that category. A young man named Ben, at loose ends after the death of his father, rejection by his girl friend and graduation from college, answers an ad. An old codger wants someone to drive him to Memphis and is willing to pay a lot of money. So off they go. Is the old codger Elvis Presley or just a really good Elvis impersonator. As disaster piles on disaster and adventure on adventure, Ben finds out more about himself and a bit about his road companion. Odd, but surprisingly entertaining. Even for someone who never paid any attention at all to popular music!
Local Munchies in One Vermont Community
The Town that Food Saved: How One Community Found Vitality in Local Food by Ben Hewitt (book, down-loadable audio book). An entertaining book, although I found it somewhat unfocused, Mr. Hewitt wanders through the history of Hardwick, the long-term development of a local food system, and the much publicized recent developments around local food businesses. It was interesting to mentally compare the Mad River Valley local food scene to the events in Hardwick.
Alabama, Civil Rights and the Klan
Fighting the Devil in Dixie: How Civil Rights Activists took on the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama by Wayne Greenhaw. Mr. Greenhaw has been working as a newspaperman in Alabama for many years now and knows the people and their stories. The only problem with the book is that he writes like a journalist so the book has a somewhat reportorial tone. But the history of the civil rights movement in Alabama is painful and uplifting and the transformation of the white attitudes over many years gave me hope for the future. I'd suggest reading this book in conjunction with Root and branch : Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the struggle to end segregation by James Rawn (920 J) which covers different aspects of the legal battles against segregation.
Constantinople and the Crusaders
The Sheen on the Silk by Anne Perry (audio CD, book available at Joslin). The protagonist is a woman physician who comes to Constantinople in 1273 disguised as a eunuch in an attempt to clear her brother of complicity in a murder which has resulted in his permanent exile to a remote monastery. Constantinople had been sacked by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and another Crusade is on the horizon. A nicely Byzantine plot! Ms. Perry does a quite decent job of exploring the history and culture of a very different time and place from her usual Victorian settings. I did spot a few anachronisms, but by and large the book works and none of the minor mistakes is all that jarring.
How Bad will it Be?
Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World: A 25-Point Program for Action by Michael C. Ruppert. How things need to change in a post cheap fuel world. Lots of good information, but mixed in with some muddled and repetitive discussions and some boasting about how accurately he predicted the economic collapse of 2008.
Growing up Odd
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (down-loadable ebook, down-loadable audio-book). My family was strange, especially for 1950s America. No TV. We ate whole grains, read all the time and avoided doctors. This book is about an equally odd family, a bit later (exact years unspecified), with a father who is a college professor specializing in Shakespeare. The three daughters, Rosalind (Rose), Bianca (Bean) and Cordy (Cordelia), all return home, ostensibly to care for their mother who is ill, but really to lick their wounds and regroup. Although they love each other, they don't like one another and the constantly shifting alliances and battles make for a very messy scene. Amusing and sad. I thought the first half of the book, laying out the disasters, was much stronger than the second half, wherein most problems are resolved. The narrator is the collective we of the three sisters, but at the same time we see them individually in the third person, an unusual technique which works pretty well.
Damp Scotland in the 1950s
A Small Death in the Great Glen by A.D. Scott. An excellent novel, especially for a first-time author, set in a small town in Scotland. The center of the story is the local newspaper and the small staff that gathers the news, and types it up on typewriters. A little boy is found dead in the canal. Was it an accident or murder? Was it the Polish sailor who jumped (or was thrown) off of a Russian ship? The local police inspector is determined to pin it on an outsider...
Fancy weddings can be fun...
Vision in White (Book One in the Bride Quartet) by Nora Roberts (down-loadable audio or book). Mackensie Elliot works with her best friends running a wedding planning company, Vows. Fun line of work, dealing with not only over-excited brides, but all of their relatives and friends. The book is pleasant light entertainment. The audio version seemed a bit drawn out so you might prefer the book.
Life in Vermont gets tricky sometimes
Moonlighting in Vermont by Kate George. Mystery set in South Royalton--a town I visited when I was looking for a library job back in 2004. The main character is a young woman who is working two jobs to support herself and her collection of animals: dogs, a cat, many chickens (only 3 laying), and a pony. Her main job is doing layout for the local paper and her secondary job is cleaning at a fancy resort. Her boss gets murdered, Bella ends up at the top of the suspects list, and life gets very complicated. I think this series has potential.
World War II suffering and triumph in Britain
Forbidden Places by Penny Vincenzi. One of those big sprawling novels with lots of characters, painful secrets, sexual hi-jinks and miseries. The main character is a young woman named Grace who marries "up" and soon regrets it. Her husband doesn't want her to do anything at all but sit quietly at home while he goes off to fight the war. Plus he has one unpleasant secret... Her sister-in-law has a charming husband except when he is a monster. And her husband's former fiancee has a dreamboat of a husband, but yes, something disastrous intervenes, will they be able to save their marriage? I found myself sucked in by the story. A good solid piece of entertaining escapism.
Is this food?
Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated into What America Eats by Steve Ettlinger. I don't think I've ever eaten a Twinkie. My parents were into natural and organic way back when that was weird and unheard of. I did taste Coke when I was about 8. My brother and I scrounged up some money and went and bought one, but I thought it tasted yucky. So I've been wandering around the Mad River Valley trying to find a Twinkie to look at (after reading the book I'm not planning to eat one), but so far, no luck. Lots of other packaged cakes and cookies, but no Twinkies. You'll be glad to know that the shelf life of Twinkies is ONLY 25 days. Enjoy.
On the verge of war
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake (downloadable audio or Joslin Memorial Library). The postmistress in a very small town in Massachusetts faces war and a woman reporter endures the Blitz in London and rides with the refugees in Europe. The young wife of a doctor faces uncertainty after her husband heads to London to work in a hospital. All the threads are delicately pulled together at the end. A good, thoughtful, enjoyable novel.
World War I mystery
An Impartial Witness by Charles Todd (down-loadable ebook). Bess Crawford, the nurse we met in A Duty to the Dead returns, once again facing a mysterious set of circumstances and a murder. When Scotland Yard takes the wrong man into custody she races against time to find the real killer. I've decided not to buy this series for the library unless someone requests it. It is fairly good, but space and money make it impossible to go for every single mystery series.
The man wrote a lot of letters
Saul Bellow: Letters edited by Benjamin Taylor. I've read a lot of Mr. Bellow's books over the years, plus I used to live in Chicago, then in Montreal and now I live in Vermont. He also lived in Montreal, Chicago and in Vermont. The letters are really good reading, but there are close to 500 pages worth, so I'll understand if no one else wants to read the entire book.
Exploring the e-book collection
A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd (downloadable e-book). I've been wondering if I should add this series to our collection, so I downloaded and read it on the Kobo e-reader the Friends kindly bought for my use. The main character is a WW I nurse, temporarily on leave due to a broken arm. A dying man asked her to carry a message to his brother and she takes advantage of her leave to visit the family and give him the message. It turns out that there is an awful family secret (isn't there always?) and Bess ends up trying to sort out a horrendous mess. Well written and thoughtful.
Dark Underbelly of Victorian England
India Black by Carol K. Carr. India Black runs a whorehouse in 1873 London. An important government official complicates her life by dying in one of her rooms. Within a few hours India finds herself neck deep in spy business, trying to steal back some crucial documents from the Russian embassy and partnered with a sarcastic gentleman with no first name. Amusing escapist fluff.
Wedding troubles in Texas
Call Me Irresistible by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. (book or downloadable e-book) Wacky young woman comes to small Texas town as wedding attendant, participates in break-up, gets stuck in town due to lack of money, gets sucked into trying to persuade a rich plumbing magnate to invest in a golf resort...and things go downhill from there. Pleasant entertainment from an author who is really good at this genre.
Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick. A brilliant take-off of Henry James's classic The Ambassadors Cynthia Ozick manages to gently parody the style of the original while exploring a completely different Europe and America. Set in 1953, the story focuses on Bea Nightingale, whose brother asks her to go to Europe to extricate his son from a mysterious situation. Unusual, fun, difficult, fascinating.
On the Beach (with Sense and Sensibility)
The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine (book, audio book on CD). The sadly charming story of two sisters and their mother who find their lives overturned by a scheming woman. The mother finds herself ejected from her marriage and her apartment, the daughters, with troubles of their own decide to support her in her travail and all three of them end up in a cottage in Westport. One daughter, whose business as a literary agent has fallen apart, starts a love affair with a charming younger man, while the sensible sister, Annie, suffers unrequited love for a successful author. Some story lines hold up very well translated into the modern world...
Freedom and Slavery
Original Sins by Peg Kingman. Loosely linked to her previous novel, Not Yet Drown'd, her new book is not precisely a sequel. This is a superb historical novel, telling a fascinating story, amazingly researched, vivid, lively and gripping. Themes include slavery, the status of women, legal proceedings, the Underground Railroad, justifications for slavery, and the development of the daguerreotype. Ms. Kingman's ability to provide a rich background without bogging down her plot is impressive. Highly recommended.
The Reversal by Michael Connelly. (book, audio CD, audio download). Exciting, suspenseful, complicated, filled with surprises...Haller is persuaded to take the prosecution side in the retrial of an accused child killer who has been released on DNA evidence. Haller lines up his ex-wife as his assistant and Bosch as his investigator and they start digging into what turns out to be a very creepy back story. The courtroom scenes are, as always, superb. I found one aspect of the plot unbelievable...let me know what you think!
Grand Sweep of History in a Novel
Fall of Giants (Book One of the Century Trilogy) by Ken Follett. Available as a book, an audio book on CD, a down-loadable eBook and a down-loadable audio book. I did the book on CD and it took me two months...but I only listen when I exercise. The story follows five families in the months leading up to World War I, then through the war in Europe and Russia and finally through the aftermath. A gripping tale told by a master storyteller, but also a triumph of deep research into the people and the times. Highly recommended.
Glamor isn't all that much fun
The Debutante by Kathleen Tessaro. This book surprised me. I was expecting light nostalgic escapism, instead it is an exploration of the changing situation of women. One modern woman, a young artist, is trying to escape from a messy, nasty relationship with a rich and powerful man, the glamorous 1920s debutante, struggles with her love for an unavailable man along with some very awkward relatives. The artist traces the story of "Baby" Blythe via a shoebox full of odd objects. Don't be put off by the sweet pink cover!
Real News, or just PR Spin?
Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans by Wendell Potter. I thought I really knew all about corporate spin and how public opinion is manipulated, but this book taught me a lot. Unfortunately, most of what I learned was pretty depressing. Well worth reading. I'll also recommend a related web-site: http://www.prwatch.org/
American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters and Fields by Rowan Jacobsen. (Review by Patricia Davies) A great book for anyone interested in food. Food tastes different from different locales, even close ones. He has chapters on honey made from one plant species (like tupelo or sourwood), salmon different in kind and size according to their spawning rivers, a wild food restaurant in Quebec (venison and muschrooms to daylily buds and cattails) real chocolate, non-chemicalized, grainy and ground by stone mills, mussels grown on rope in the sea of Prince Edward Island and much more. He also tells you where to get some of these specialties and gives a few interesting recipes.
On the Beach in the 30's
God on the Rocks by Jane Gardam. I really don't know what to say about this book, except that I really enjoyed it. Rich, complex, subtle...all that sort of stuff.
Deadly Wilderness: New Orleans?
Burn by Nevada Barr. Book and (hopefully very soon) audio CD. Anna Pigeon is hanging out in New Orleans recovering from an injury when she runs into some really strange goings on. Meanwhile, in Seattle, a woman named Clare discovers that her children have disappeared, then her house blows up. Things just go down hill from there. A genuinely scary story...
The Wave: In Pursuit of the Rogues, Freaks and Giants of the Ocean by Susan Casey (down-loadable audiobook). Gripping and terrifying, this is the book to give to the relative who is trying to convince you to go on a romantic cruise. The author alternates stories about scientists and cargo ship disasters with tales from the world of big wave surfing. I was surprised to find surfers risking their lives to ride 70 and 80 foot waves, using a relatively new technique called tow surfing which involves teamwork and jet skis to get the surfer into position to grab the biggest waves. One theme of the book is the effect of global warming on the size of waves, but unfortunately the scientific answer is: "we are not sure." Cargo ships are disappearing at an amazing rate these days, a largely overlooked problem, exacerbated by the fact that the majority of crews are currently from the developing world. An excellent story, also available as a down-loadable e-book.
Juliet by Anne Fortier. It turns out that the original Romeo and Juliet lived in Siena. This romp of a novel sends a young woman named Juliet to Siena on the trail of a mysterious treasure. Her story is entangled with the "real" story of the historical Romeo and Juliet, along with their ill-fated families: the Tolomeis, the Salimbenis and the Mariscottis. Along the way she encounters an artist, a saint, and some gangsters. We can't leave out the underground passages, nor the terrible case of sibling rivalry and then there is the really good-looking Italian guy who may be a villain, or, on the other hand, might be a hero.
Seaside Vacation (with problems)
Dead Man's Chest (A Phryne Fisher Mystery) by Kerry Greenwood. Entertaining escapism set in Australia. Phyrne, her maid, her adopted daughters and the dog all drive off to Queenscliff, a beach resort, for a few weeks at the sea. When they arrive they discover that the butler and cook have vanished from the rental house, the back door is open and all of the food is gone. Phryne works on the mystery while her household copes with the domestic challenges. Why don't rental houses come with butlers and cooks nowadays?
Searching for a romantic mystery about a dog trainer?
The Search by Nora Roberts (downloadable audio or book). Fiona trains dogs including search and rescue dogs. Simon has a misbehaving puppy. But that is only the beginning of a book which includes useful information on how to cope with canine behavior (I applied a technique from the book to an overly friendly dog met on the Mad River Path), a hot romance, a lovely setting, three amazing search and rescue sequences, AND a nasty serial murderer. The mix seemed a bit odd to me...
Sad Tales of Murder and Mayhem
The Murder Room: The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases by Michael Capuzzo (downloadable audio and book). True stories of detection from the annals of the Vidocq Society an extraordinary club founded by three brilliant investigators are combined with excerpts from the life stories of the lead trio. The Vidocq club meets monthly and focuses on solving cold cases, with considerable success. Not for the squeamish.
You have to read both books...
to make sense of this very complicated novel published in two parts. Blackout is the first section and All Clear is the second and final book. Both by award-winning science fiction novelist Connie Willis. The premise is simple. At some point in the future time-travel has been perfected and historians have come out of the archives and started doing their research directly in the past. Three young historians are sent to England, one to Dover disguised as a reporter to interview participants in the Dunkirk evacuation, one to a country house to work as a maid and observe the children evacuated from London and one to work at a London department store as a clerk. Something goes terribly wrong and they all find themselves stranded. The books are amazing as an evocation of England during World War II and also as an exploration of the possible effects of time travel. Recommended!
Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System from Crisis—and Lost by Andrew Ross Sorkin
The plot of this story closely parallels a movie: Vertical Limit. The movie is about people falling off a mountain and the book is about companies falling into catastrophic insolvency. In the movie rescues involve ropes and in the book rescues involve paper, phone calls, congressional committees and a lot of meetings. A surprisingly entertaining book, for all that. Long!
One Thing Led to Another
The House That George Built With a Little Help From Irving, Cole, and a Crew of About Fifty by Wilfrid Sheed. A couple of weeks ago I watched a movie: De-Lovely: The Cole Porter Story which left me curious about Cole Porter's life and work. I just ignored my curiosity until I was weeding the Dewey Decimal 700s and hit this book. I looked inside and there was an entire chapter on Cole Porter so I took it home to read. I didn't make it all the way through, but it is an entertaining account of American popular music from roughly 1910 through 1955, focusing on the personalities who churned out the best music of the era.
The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly (audio CD or book). Jack McEvoy just got fired from the LA Times, but he is given two weeks to train a successor. In an attempt to leave with colors flying, he starts digging into a murder case involving a gang banger and dead woman in a car trunk. But there is a lot more going on than Jack is prepared for and he finds that instead of writing his last great story he is the target of a vicious killer.
Rainy Day (no week) and Murder
On Location by Elizabeth Sims. A fun little mystery as ex-actress Rita goes hunting her missing sister up in Washington State, accompanied by her good friend Daniel (handy in the woods and with first-aid) and her son and pursued by her boyfriend who is working a case of his own with a possible embezzlement at a large Seattle firm. The book includes flooding, multiple injury cases, kidnapping (but not of the child), murder and some very complex plotting. Enjoyable, especially if you like outdoor adventure.
Why so many DVDs?
Why am I suddenly reviewing all these DVDs? Simple. I'm knitting sweaters for my grandchildren.
Prairie Home Companion (DVD). Making a movie of a radio show which is sort of fiction and sort of not-fiction is strange. But it sort of works. Great performances by Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and others. Garrison Keillor plays himself.
The Day After Tomorrow (DVD). Global warming suddenly overturns the Gulf Stream current and precipitates some huge storms. Ice Age descends over the Northern hemisphere. Lots of special effects, quite decent acting, and a mention of Nietzsche. People take refuge in the NY Public Library and burn books to keep warm. As a librarian, I disapprove.
Pretty Woman (DVD) Entertainment, pure and simple. Girl gets a chance to hang out with a super rich business magnate in town for one week. Business magnate gets a chance to reconsider his life, his work and his ability to relate. Everyone wins. Hard to take it seriously, but there is some really great acting.
I Robot (DVD). Loosely based on the book of short stories by Isaac Asimov. Robots are getting better and better, making life easy and pleasant for human beings who can just lean back and let a robot deal with the hard work. A leading robotics researcher suddenly dies under suspicious circumstances and a very retro detective is assigned to the case. A movie that manages to combine action with some snippets of philosophy.
Little Women (DVD). Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon star in yet another version of the classic book. Well acted and charming coming of age story.
Rush Hour (DVD). Silly, violent, entertaining--starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker--who go zooming around LA to rescue the daughter of the Chinese Consul. Climax takes place in the Los Angeles Convention Center--wild!
Flashdance (DVD). Follow your passion and dance. I really enjoyed this movie. The people looked real, wore real clothes, worked real jobs and lived in real spaces that looked normal. The main characters were awkward, complicated and passionate. The only thing I thought was a bit unreal was the quality of the exotic dances presented by the main character. Is there a real bar where someone could dance like that? In Pittsburgh? This is one I'd watch again.
Men Seeking Women (DVD). A sad little movie about three young guys who would really like to settle down, maybe not get married, but at least have some sort of ongoing relationship...but things just aren't working out. So they make a bet with each other and start getting into trouble, and more trouble and more trouble. Supposedly a comedy.
Somethings's Gotta Give (DVD). A charming but somewhat irritating movie about an aging bachelor who is chasing a young woman and ends up interested in her mother. The irritating part is that all of these people always have clean houses (with no help), and food in the refrigerator (with no shopping) and never seem to get stuck in traffic. But the acting is superb from the entire cast and especially Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton.
The Legend of Zorro (DVD). Wildly silly but entertaining in parts. Nice costumes, good chase scenes, amazing fight sequences and a very cute kid. I found the special features more interesting than the movie, especially the one about the process of doing the train chase, battle and explosion.
Addicted to Plastic (DVD). Amazingly entertaining ecological disaster movie. Educational, too. You'll never toss another piece of plastic without feeling concerned...
Catwoman (DVD). Silly and entertaining. The special features includes interviews and so forth, which try to make the claim that Catwoman represents an example of female power. Personally, I've got extreme doubts that the ability to be sexy and violent has anything to do with real power. Just consider Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi or Margaret Thatcher!
Mona Lisa Smile (DVD). Julia Roberts stars as a young art professor who comes to Wellesley in 1953 with high hopes. An interesting picture of privileged young women a few years before the world began to drastically change.
The Marshal of Cedar Rock (DVD). Old western with a bad guy trying to rip off the ranchers and a good guy who saves the day. I noticed that in old westerns they seem to have magic horses who never need to be watered or fed and can gallop madly for long distances without getting winded or needing to walked or wiped down or cared for at all. Pretty nifty!
The Murders in The Rue Morgue. (DVD). Includes some amazingly poor acting by the lovely Rebecca De Mornay, some good acting by George C. Scott (although he is absolutely not a Frenchman), and some nice atmospheric effects. One of those movies that you can enjoy despite the shortcomings...
Mary Kerr at the Warren Public Library with "A Mountain Love Affair: The Story of Mad River Glen". (DVD). I don't ski, but Mary had a lot of good stories to tell about Mad River Glen and the process of writing a history of a unique ski area.
Arlington: Field of Honor (National Geographic DVD). I knew almost nothing about the history and current activities at the Arlington National Cemetery and I enjoyed learning more.
20 Wild Westerns: Marshals & Gunmen (DVD). Twenty westerns on 3 compact disks is a lot. Strange mix, besides. Includes some very, very old John Wayne movies from the 1930s, some spaghetti westerns made in Italy and lots more. I watched: The Proud Rebel with Alan Ladd and Olivia De Havilland; Little Moon & Jud McGraw with James Caan & Stefanie Powers (a spoof); Pioneer Woman with William Shatner & Joanna Pettet; and Raiders of Old California with Lee Van Cleef & Marty Robbins. If you like the genre you can probably find some entertainment here.
Grease (DVD). I hated being a teenager and I hated having to associate with other teenagers, so this movie struck me as a mix of unrealistic (all those teenagers without pimples) and too realistic (pettiness, meanness, gameplaying). But some of the music and dancing is fun.
The Cowboys (DVD). John Wayne as a rancher whose cowhands have all run off to hunt for gold. How to get his herd to market? Hire schoolboys. Pleasant entertainment, nice scenery, lots of horses and cattle and some violence. I used to watch John Wayne movies as a teen babysitter a very long time ago. In those days it didn't occur to me that manhood doesn't actually have anything to do with the ability to be violent.
Hero (DVD). A Chinese martial arts film with a twist. I like the way martial arts films combine beauty and grace with violence and this particular movie is an especially strong example of the genre. A gently twisty plot, lovely costumes and scenery, and some amazing fight scenes add up to good entertainment.
Swimming Upstream (DVD). Based on a true story, set in 1950's Australia, a poor, not very functional family with a sports-crazed father, produces two sons who are amazing swimmers. The father ends up pitting the two boys against each other, with sad results. In the end, however...well, watch the movie, I found it quite gripping.
The Singing Detective (DVD). A strange, but fascinating movie about a writer with a severe case of psoriasis. He is in the hospital, almost helpless, but in his mind's eye he is rewriting one of his earlier books. The book scenes are set in 1950s Los Angeles and done in noir, the hospital scenes are done in fluorescent, the flashbacks to his childhood are done in desert. Altogether bizarre. For this one I actually took the time to watch it again with the director's commentary--enlightening. The movie reminded me of Hamlet crossed with the modern play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. A couple of minor characters emerge from the author's imagination and start wreaking havoc.
Runaway Jury (DVD). This movie is based on a book by John Grisham. I had listened to the book a few years ago and was sort of curious about the movie version. Although the trial cause was changed from smoking causing cancer to careless gun sales causing mass killings, the plot structure was surprisingly similar. Excellent performances from Gene Hackman, Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack and Rachel Weisz.
I am Sam (DVD). Sam (Sean Penn) is a grown-up with the mind of a 7 year old. After a brief fling with a woman he suddenly finds himself the father of a baby girl he names Lucy (after Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds). With a bit of help from a neighbor he manages until Lucy turns 7, when some problems escalate and he is threatened with the loss of custody. Sam goes looking for a high-powered lawyer and finds Rita (Michelle Pfeiffer). The movie raises some really good questions about what constitutes normal and high-functioning in our somewhat insane world.
The Thing About My Folks (DVD). A sweet movie about an elderly father and his grown son who go on an unexpected road trip together after "Mom" suddenly disappears, leaving behind a brief and mysterious note. Peter Falk turns in an entertaining and appealing performance as the father and Paul Reiser is very good as the son.
Blazing Saddles (DVD). One of Mel Brooks funniest, a parody of the silliest bits of the western movie genre, and just as amusing as the first time I saw it. Utterly politically incorrect on every level.
Vermont's Creative Economy: Progress and Promise (DVD). From the Vermont Council on Rural Development, stories and tools for invigorating local economies by developing the arts and crafts and fun events. Of course this is already big in the Mad River Valley but there might still be some great ideas not tried. Includes documents in pdf format which can be printed using your computer, along with short video clips about successful programs.
The 40-Year-Old Virgin (DVD). Odd, but modern life with conveniences and goodies doesn't seem to make people happy. At least not according to the light romantic movies I've been watching--everyone is at best uncomfortable and at worst seriously miserable. The current one features a slightly geeky guy who just never managed to go all the way with a girl. He works in a big electronics store and the other guys figure out that he is a virgin and decide to fix the problem. Some of it is funny.
Smart People (DVD).Dennis Quaid plays a widower and English professor, father of a teen girl and a college age boy. Due to his generally unpleasant behavior no one likes him. However, he meets a woman. And his stepbrother turns up. This movie was supposed to be funny, I thought it was mostly very sad.
National Geographic: 30 Years of National Geographic Specials (DVD). Explores common themes of the human and animal experience on earth by lining up appropriate excerpts from various specials. Nicely done.
The Fighting Temptations (DVD). Set in a NY advertising agency and a Baptist church, this sweet movie shows the awakening of a young con man to the joys of gospel music and a wholesome life. But it is entertaining in spite of a somewhat banal plot line.
Tune in Tomorrow: Local Radio's Role in Community - The WDEV Story (DVD). I had no idea that WDEV had been on the air since 1931! The disappearance of thousands of local radio stations across the U.S. has really undermined access to the local airwaves because large corporations aren't going to care who wins the local hockey championship. WDEV has successfully held its ground against the corporate juggernaut and enriched the Vermont media environment in the process. A great story.
The Importance of Being Earnest (DVD). Wilde's play takes off as a very entertaining movie. Judi Dench makes Colin Firth look a bit of an amateur!
Vertical Limit (DVD). Action movies, by definition are not about great dialogue or deep development of character. This one is about some climbers who get stranded in a crevasse under an avalanche on K2 and some other climbers who try to rescue them. I enjoyed it but it reminded me that I hate heights and especially views of heights where people are dangling by one hand from an ice axe.
2 Days in Paris (DVD). Parisian gal and NY guy who have been living together in NYC go to Europe for vacation. They drop off the cat at her parent's house in Paris and then go to Venice. On the way back to NY they stop in Paris for a two day stopover. The movie is about hypochondria, male/female differences, past lovers, having eccentric parents...and Paris. Entertaining but a bit silly IMO.
Virginia's Run (DVD). A girl, a horse, a race, a mean competitor, and a few other cliches. Not sure what age group this is for...tweens?
De-Lovely: The Cole Porter Story (DVD). A charming, delightful movie tells the life story of Cole Porter in music, dance and drama. Bittersweet and visually delightful.
NY City Tenement Food
97 Orchard: An Edible History of Five Immigrant Families in One New York Tenement by Jane Ziegelman. One of the most fascinating and enjoyable non-fiction books I've read this year (the other one was Blind Descent), highly recommended! History with recipes and pictures and incredible human interest, particularly for folks with ancestors who spent time in large city slums. The book recounts the story of one building, now The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, formerly home to many families of immigrants. The book looks at a German family, an Irish family, two Jewish families and an Italian family through the lens of what they ate, when they ate it, where they bought it, how they prepared it and how they earned the money to pay for it. Highly recommended.
The Other Family by Joanna Trollope. Chrissie returns home from the hospital in a daze. Richie is dead. Although Richie was the father of her three daughters he was not her husband. Richie was still married to Margaret who lives in the North of England near their son, Scott. Richie's death forces the two families to confront some uncomfortable truths...
Watching DVDs so I can knit a sweater...
Shergar: Discover the Heart of a Champion (DVD). Based, very loosely, on the kidnapping for ransom of a retired to stud racehorse by IRA terrorists, this movie adds a teenage runaway to the story who kidnaps Shergar from the IRA terrorists and then hooks up with a kindly old man and his granddaughter who spend the summers as Travelers. The villains are very villainous and the good people are very noble and there are a few in between characters for balance. Entertaining but not to be taken seriously.
Life as a House (DVD). Kevin Kline stars as a man who has wrecked all his relationships and lives in a falling down shack at the edge of a cliff in an otherwise upscale neighborhood. For years he has fantasized about tearing down the shack and building a beautiful new house. Then he discovers that he is dying of cancer and decides it is now or never.
The Smallest Show on Earth. Very early Peter Sellers combined with rather late Margaret Rutherford makes for a silly but entertaining old movie. A young couple inherits a movie theater from "Great-uncle Simon" along with three very strange employees.
Cheesemonger: A Life on the Wedge by Gordon Edgar. A fun food book written by the cheese buyer at the Rainbow Cooperative in San Francisco. Mr. Edgar was just looking for a job that matched his politics, was offered work in the cheese department, and the rest is history. Lots of interesting commentary on common and rare varieties of cheese, including exploration of hot questions: raw versus pasteurized, small versus large, handmade versus factory made, and, biggest of all, why are some cheeses so darn expensive?!? Many mentions of Vermont cheeses.
Not for the Claustrophobic...
Blind Descent: The Quest to Discover the Deepest Place on Earth by Jim Tabor. I devoured this book in two days, fascinated and horrified by crazy people who are willing to spend weeks underground, climbing up and down cliffs with ropes, swimming through underground lakes (sumps), crawling through narrow tunnels and spending time in total darkness to save batteries. Why do they do it? Some for science, others for the adventure and I suppose some for the challenge.
Pompeii by Robert Harris (down-loadable audio or book). Great story about an aqueduct engineer who finds himself pulled into the middle of the dramatic tale of the eruption of Vesuivius. Cast of characters includes Pliny the Elder (well-known natural scientist), an evil entrepreneurial ex-slave, a beautiful maiden in distress and a large crowd of extras. I really enjoyed the book which manages to be both entertaining and educational, not an easy thing for an author to pull off.
The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova. (audio CD or book) Why would a successful artist attack a painting in the National Gallery? A psychiatrist explores his story, searching for the identity of the beautiful subject of the artist's paintings by speaking to the women in his life. Events from 1870s France illuminate the mystery and tragedy in the life of a brilliant woman painter among the Impressionists. The audiobook is narrated by several excellent readers.
Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women (DVD). The extraordinary story of a truly remarkable woman who overcame huge challenges to become a successful author and public figure. The movie combines actors, photos, dialogue based on the written record and commentary (only a little) by scholars. The fascinating story of a life that included home schooling from Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, nursing during the Civil War, desperate struggles with poverty, years of hard work, and a secret career as the writer of pulp thrillers makes for a surprisingly entertaining documentary.
Young Adult reading?
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. We have an audio edition, which is how I started the book. Some of the disks were badly scratched and I wanted to finish the book, so I pulled out the "hard" copy and plunged in. This turned out to be a blessing as the book offers some special visual pieces that are, of course, missing if you just listen to it. On the other hand, the reader of the audio version enriches the story...my recommendation is to do both! The story? It is about a German foster child during World War II who steals a book and then another book and then another book. It is about Death, and violence and suffering and despair and joy and love and kindness and family. The audio edition is in the adult section and the book is in the Young Adult collection.
Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa by R. A. Scotti. August, 1911 and the Mona Lisa is successfully heisted from the Louvre. The museum staff didn't even notice her loss for over 24 hours! The story gets even crazier as the police decide that Picasso and his friends may be part of a gang of international art thieves. One of those unbelievable true stories with an unsolved mystery at the core.
Superbly Entertaining Non-Fiction
Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben Macintyre. British eccentrics pull off a ridiculous stunt and convince the Germans that instead of the Allies planning to invade Sicily they are heading for Greece. The eccentrics were intelligence officers and the plan, although carefully worked out, was only successful due to an amazing stroke of luck...but you have to read the book.
Fiction Set in Vermont
The Road Home by Michael Thomas Ford. A charming little book about a 40 year-old photographer who has to go home and stay with his father in rural Vermont (due to a couple of broken bones from a car crash), a painful experience for both of them. Burke is, he thinks, happy living in Boston as a gay man and happy with his work as a photographer and he hates rural Vermont. You can probably figure out the rest of the story! Warning, graphic sex.
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. The totally amazing story of a fourteen year-old school drop-out who, with the help of three books from the tiny library in his village, a large pile of junk and a couple of good friends, built a working windmill which supplied electricity to his home. One of the best books I've read this year, highly recommended.
Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons. The Rosenblum family arrives in England in 1937, fleeing the Nazis and leaving behind relatives. Jack is determined to become more English than the English and is fairly successful except for membership in an English golf club, which is not open to Jews in the 1950s. Jack finds a cottage and some land in Dorset and begins to build his own golf course. Meanwhile, Sadie mourns her lost mother and brother and bakes mountains of nostalgic cakes. A curious mix of magical realism and everyday life, this book definitely has its charms.
Downloadable Non-Fiction from Overdrive
Predictably Irrational : The Hidden Forces that Shape our Decisions by Dan Ariely. An entertaining excavation of the hidden springs that motivate our actions. From the best way to get friends to help you move, to the best method of avoiding ordering things you don't want at a restaurant...human beings are indeed irrational...but surprisingly consistent in our craziness. (Downloadable Audio)
Crime and Mystery
Diary of a Confessions Queen by Kathy Carmichael. Amy's husband disappeared seven years ago. Amy is having a hard time making ends meet writing fiction for true confessions magazines. Amy also has a blackmailer, a stalker breaking into her house and a very sexy detective, plus some weird relatives by marriage and a super wacky elderly neighbor. Silly, fluffy, but sort of fun, except for a couple of murders. I guess most mystery novels have murders...
Forbidden Fruit by Kerry Greenwood. Christmas in Australia means hot weather, which means that baking bread is hot work. Corinna, the baker, has to deal with a missing teenager (pregnant), a donkey, and a group of utterly fanatical vegans. Luckily she gets some help from the crazily creative Fregans. Entertaining -- fifth in a series.
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (audio CD and book). The second in a mystery series set in Quebec in a tiny rural town filled with charming eccentrics along with an occasional murderer. Chief Inspector Gamache is faced with a creepy murder at a seance held in an abandoned house, along with some truly dangerous political maneuvering within the Quebec police force.
The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear. The latest in a series about a woman detective working in England following WW I: this time Maisie Dobbs is looking into a possible murder which was covered up by the massive slaughter on the battlefields of France. A young American mapmaker volunteered to serve in the British forces and disappeared. Now his body has been found and identified, along with some papers. Intriguing.
I've been thinking about filling some of the gaps in our collection, specifically series fiction. For example, we have some of the series by Jacqueline Winspear, reviewed above. There are many other authors where we have some of a series, but not all. I'm looking for suggestions of books in series where readers would like to read earlier books or recommend them to friends. Give me a call!
Read all about your favorite detectives
as described by their creators! The Lineup: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives edited by Otto Penzler. First I skipped through and read all about the fictional detectives whose stories I know and love, then I skipped through and read about the fictional detectives I've been thinking I ought to have read. By then I was so fascinated with the weird imaginations of the various authors that I read about all the fictional detectives whose stories I'll probably never touch with a ten-foot pole. A very entertaining compendium for any fan of mystery or crime novels.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (audio CD). A somewhat sweet story of two maids working in Jackson, Mississippi in the early 1960s and their unlikely collaboration and friendship with a young white woman who wants to become a writer. Entertaining. And the evil young matron who heads the Junior League is truly an outstanding example of her type.
Hunting Eichmann by Neil Bascomb (downloadable audio from Net Library). The story of Adolf Eichmann, his career during World War II and his escape following the war is fascinating and horrifying. In 1960 a team of Mossad operatives slipped into Argentina and kidnapped Eichmann. He was smuggled out of the country and transported to Israel where he was tried and condemned to death. I found the details of the operation gripping in a bizarre sort of way. Real life spies never manage perfect timing or totally smooth operations, which is probably a good thing. The most difficult part for everyone involved was spending time with Eichmann, who didn't really seem to understand why he was seen as a criminal...
Invictus. A delightful movie about South Africa and rugby, based on the book Playing the Enemy by John Carlin and the 1995 World Cup match. The Springboks were the underdog team, going up against the All Blacks from New Zealand. Nelson Mandela used rugby, a sport that had been divisive under apartheid, to bring white and black South Africa together.
The 10 Things You Need to Eat: and More Than 100 Easy and Delicious Ways to Prepare Them by Dave Lieberman and Anahad O'Connor. Unfortunately the library doesn't have a test kitchen. We don't have a staff chef, either. This deficiency means that cookbooks are tested in my kitchen by me. Since I am, at best, very middle-of-the road in my kitchen skills, the most I can do is try out a few recipes and report the results. This book was easy to use, the recipes are clear, each section starts with an explanation of the benefits of the recommended food and the end results were all edible. I cooked Beet and Caramelized Onion Potato Mash, making a 2/3 recipe since I am definitely not 6 people. I followed the directions for boiling the beets. Everything worked okay except that some of the stuff was done well before other stuff, so I was pretty hungry by the time I combined the ingredients and ate lunch. For dinner I made Chicken Scaloppine with Sweet and Sour Spinach. This one told me to flatten the chicken breasts by pounding them. I'd never done this before and I don't think I pounded quite enough. But the end result was very yummy and was certainly an easy way to get my spinach. I also tried Red Lentil Dal with Cilantro and Yogurt, which was easy and delicious. I've been using red lentils for years and was happy to find another good way to cook them.
Any volunteers for the position of library test cook?
Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay. Kay has created his own unique fantasy genre. He writes novels about real historical times and places, but loosens the bounds of reality and fact. Under Heaven takes place in a world much like Tang Dynasty China, but freely and beautifully imagined. The story begins in a remote area on the border of "Kitai" where Shen Tai is coming to the end of two years of mourning the death of his father by burying the bones of the soldiers who died in a huge battle. A wonderful story of adventure, disaster and transformation.
The Information Officer by Mark Mills. The author of Amagansett manages to gently merge the WW II adventure novel, with a spy novel, with a murder mystery. The background story of the resistance of Malta to a horrific level of bombing by the Germans is just as good as the fictional adventures of young Max Chadwick, who has the fun job of making the war effort look good as the bombs rain down. Recommended!
Guardian of Lies by Steve Martini (audio CD or book). The latest in a very long-running series about a California criminal lawyer takes off into the international terrorist underground. Complicated plot depends heavily on coincidence and luck (good and bad). Entertaining, but I prefer his earlier books.
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith. Good times in Botswana with the investigators at the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Precious Ramotswe faces the loss of her tiny white van, struggles with a football (soccer) team on a losing streak, and deals with an epic power struggle between her assistant, Grace Makutsi and the evil (but glamorous) Violet over Grace's fiance, Phuti Radiphuti, owner of the Double Comfort Furniture Store.
I have a confession to make. I listen to audio books while I do my morning exercises. If a book is too gripping, I'll get distracted and miss some of the exercises, and if it is too boring, I won't want to exercise. Alexander McCall Smith's books are just right...
U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton (downloadable audio from OverDrive or book). A very old kidnapping case comes up to irritate and puzzle Kinsey Milhone. Entertaining, but not for vegans. And no, the problem is not disgusting indulgence in meat by carnivores. Ms. Grafton includes a vegan character who is utterly repulsive in every possible way. I guess she assumes (perhaps correctly) that people who avoid meat, eggs and milk also avoid murder mysteries.
Guest Review from David Ellis
Red Families v. Blue Families – Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture
Naomi Cahn – Research Professor of Law at George Washington University
June Carbone – Professor of Law at University of Missouri at Kansas City
This is a remarkable book! Two scholars of Family Law have written a book anyone can understand, and everyone should read. Why? Anyone who watches election returns knows about Red (Republican) and Blue (Democratic) States. The authors explain with admirable clarity how and why our country has become Red/Blue - polarized geographically, economically, and religiously, as well as politically.
Other reviews summarize the books goal, arguments, and conclusions. This review concerns structure and style. The Introduction states “This book takes a comprehensive look at the relationship among moral anxiety about family form, ideological driven family laws, and the prospect for more constructive approaches to family change”. It also states the following conclusion: “—genuine family reform requires a more honest conversation about the changed and changing terms of family stability. Doing so starts with the recognition that red families and blue families are living different lives with different symbolic and practical needs.”
The astute reader will quickly notice the author’s natural modernist “blue” sympathies. However, they show deep understanding of and respect for the goals of traditional “red” families. There is not a trace of polemic writing in the book.
The book is divided into three parts. Part 1, “Family Maps” lays out the salient facts in detail. And the facts should be very interesting to anyone who cares deeply about their family and the future. Part 2, “The Legal Map” shows how and why Family Law evolved differently in different geographic regions of the country. Part 3, “The Map To The Future” gives pragmatic advice for individuals, voters, and lawmakers that respects tradition, is sensitive to the “culture wars”, and moves the country towards healthier families.
Finally, the brief Conclusion beautifully summarizes what is important, and what is not.
For those willing to read the book carefully, hidden gems and sparkling insights make the time well spent. Highly recommended!
Back from vacation!
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin (audio CD or book). I listened to the audio book and then pulled the book off the biographies shelf and browsed the pictures. An excellent work in audio or paper, thoughtful, deeply researched, warm and lively. Great vacation "reading".
The picture of Lincoln as an unsophisticated prairie lawyer is well established, Ms Goodwin shows him as a shrewd and subtle politician who knew how to turn the strengths and weaknesses of others to advantage. What made Lincoln extraordinary was his genuine humility and dedication to public service.
The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen. Novels based on the lives of artists are now a popular genre. Ms. Cullen tells the story of the well-known female artist Sofonisba Anguissola who studied with Michaelangelo. Sofonisba is invited to Spain to become Lady-in-waiting and painting instructor to Felipe II's third wife, Elisabeth a young French princess. The court is filled with intrigue and scandal, and Sofonisba struggles to work as an artist in a setting quite hostile to independent and talented women. A vivid picture of the time and place.
More stuff to read or listen to
Wedding Season by Katie Fforde. Ms Fforde neatly combines work and romance in her light novels set in England. Wedding Season is--big surprise--about the insanity of the wedding business. The story covers the ups and downs of three women, a wedding planner, a hairdresser and a dressmaker, who end up working on a really cheap wedding for the wedding planner's sister (needed, wedding gown that won't emphasize "the bump") and an utterly extravagant wedding for a minor movie star (needed, quaint English country setting, coach and horses, little bridesmaids with wings). Fun and silly.
Hell Gate by Linda Fairstein (audio CD or book). Ongoing series about an assistant DA in NYC who specializes in sex crimes. This outing finds Alex Cooper investigating an international slavery ring with links to someone in city government. Someone murders a congressman's girlfriend and someone murdered one of the girls who was being "imported" from the Ukraine. The girls are linked by a rose tattoo...
Requiem in Vienna by J. Sydney Jones. Someone is trying to murder Mahler. Karl Werthen, a lawyer and investigator is asked to look into the case and is joined by his good friend, a criminologist, Hanns Gross. Not a spectacularly good mystery, but the setting is delightful and the descriptions of food are even better. I had no idea that Mahler was such a difficult person!
The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People who Read Them by Elif Batuman. The peculiar story of how Elif fell into graduate studies in Russian literature, met many strange people, visited Russia, spent a summer in Samarkand and visited a reproduction ice palace in St. Petersburg. Very entertaining, even if you don't understand Russian literature. But then...is there anyone who understands Russian literature? Really?
Faces of the Gone by Brad Parks. A young reporter working for a Newark daily paper is sent to cover an unusual killing: 4 seemingly unrelated people executed in a vacant lot. As he starts digging he finds a connection--and everything spirals out of control. Funny, a bit scary, and includes an denouement that combines terror with quirky humor.
Olive Kittridge by Elizabeth Strout (downloadable audio from Overdrive, audio CD, book). A series of brief stories, set in and around Crosby, Maine, centers on the difficult life and personality of Olive Kittridge, a retired math teacher. Some of the stories are directly "about" Olive, some stories center on other folks around the town who intersect with Olive at one point or another. Olive, like most of us, is a queer mixture of insight and self-delusion, stubborn, intelligent, interested, surprised. I enjoyed the book and wondered where everyone eventually ended up--the characters were that believable.
How to Get Things Really Flat: Englightenment for Every Man on Ironing, Vacuuming and other Household Arts by Andrew Martin. A middle-aged Englishman from who grew up in York explains why men should do housework (to regain the moral edge from women) and how to do housework (which isn't the way women do housework). I thought it was the funniest book I'd ever read on the topic of housework. But none of the others were funny...
The God of the Hive by Laurie R. King. A close sequel to her previous book in the series, The Language of Bees, this is more of a thriller than a mystery, with Holmes and Russell separated through most of the story. I found it entertaining, but slightly weaker than some of the other entries. King is a very good writer, even when she isn't at her best.
Blackout by Connie Willis. Science fiction by an author who transcends the genre. Some of the book takes place in 2060 Oxford and the rest in England during WW II as various "Historians" take up residence to observe the "contemps" coping with the Blitz and the evacuees (the evacuees are worse) and trying to get around London on public transportation (close to impossible). But something seems to have gone wrong with time travel and they may be trapped in the past...
The House on Tradd Street by Karen White (audio CD). A very light and fluffy mystery involving an old house which needs major rehab, a missing person story from 80 years earlier and a woman who sees ghosts. Set in Charleston, South Carolina, with a very southern ambiance, the story does include a short detour to Vermont. Personally, I prefer Vermont!
Even More Reviews!
The Heretic's Wife by Brenda Rickman Vantrease. Historical adventure tells the story of the underground attempt to translate the Bible into English during the reign of Henry VIII. The story moves between the fictional adventures of a young woman whose brother is arrested for selling illegal religious pamphlets from their bookstore and the activities of the powerful: Henry VIII, Wolsey, Thomas More, Ann Boleyn. In my opinion, the author is much more believable describing the experiences of the ordinary folk than exploring the minds and hearts of the historical movers and shakers.
False Mermaid by Erin Hart. Set in Ireland and Minneapolis, this suspense/mystery is the third in a series. I haven't read the first two, but it wasn't a problem. The author has a talent for describing the settings, the plot is legitimately twisty (doesn't depend on people doing really dumb stuff to miss seeing what really happened) and, except for one character, I found everyone believable. An enjoyable read.
The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon. Evelyn is trying to make it as a lawyer in 1920s London (when women lawyers were rare and usually met with hostility), trying to keep a roof over her discordant family's heads and trying to cope with the loss of her younger brother in World War I. She finds herself battered from all sides as a young woman turns up with a small child who is obviously her brother's son and her boss throws her into the middle of a difficult murder case.
The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health—And a Vision for Change by Annie Leonard. A fascinating and surprisingly enjoyable book that gives you the low-down on cotton t-shirts and millions of other “inexpensive” bits and pieces which we just cannot live without. Highly recommended for anyone who is interested in the health of our society and our environment.
Real Simple Magazine (one of 30 magazines in our library collection). I've got mixed feelings on this one. All about acquiring more stuff, organizing the stuff once you've acquired it, and using the stuff you've got more effectively. Covers a lot of basic information that would help people who are setting up their first space. On the other hand, there are lots of lovely pictures and some cute articles on this and that. Personally, I wouldn't subscribe, but I'll probably check it out of the library a couple of times a year.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. A novelized account of the lives of two remarkable creatures: women who became fossil hunters in the early 1800s in Lyme Regis, England. Mary Anning belongs to the working classes and is set to fossil hunting by her father, a cabinet maker; Elizabeth Philpot is a middle-class woman, one of three sisters dumped in Lyme Regis to be out of the way of her brother's wife. Fossils presented, at that time, a troubling challenge to the literal interpretation of Genesis, so Elizabeth's interest in fossils moved her to the edge of respectability. A fascinating story by a superb historical novelist and a book that would make a very good read for a book club.
American Wife by Craig Sittenfeld (downloadable audio or book). An exploration of the peculiar role allotted to spouses of powerful men, this novel explores the life of a quiet, reserved, thoughtful woman who finds herself married to the president. When Alice first met Charlie Blackwell, he was a bit of a lightweight, fun, lively, running for Congress. After his congressional run fails, he settles down to work for the family business and Alice settled down into the role of a stay-at-home mother and wife. To her surprise, Charlie ends up managing a ball team, then becomes governor...and finally ends up as a controversial president. If this sounds familiar, it is because the novel is loosely based on the lives of Laura and George Bush. Very loosely. Intriguing.
A Night Too Dark by Dana Stabenow. One of my favorite mystery authors, Stabenow has a long-running series set in an isolated part of Alaska. This installment involves some missing workers from the new gold mine, along with plenty of eccentric characters and a grizzly. Stabenow is very good at providing background information for new readers of the series without slowing the action to a crawl, so you don't have to start with her first book and read forward.
Root and Branch: Charles Hamilton Houston, Thurgood Marshall, and the Struggle to End Segregation by Rawn James, Jr. A horrifying and fascinating story, well told by a young lawyer living and practicing in Washington, D.C. The Civil Rights Movement began many years before the 1960s and Houston laid the groundwork by establishing a high-quality law program at Howard University, an all black college in Washington, D.C. The book recounts the history of the legal battles which led, eventually, to school desegregation. The most telling moment, for me, was the Supreme Court review of restrictive covenants, which prevented black families from buying homes in white neighborhoods. “Oral argument opened dramatically on January 16, 1948, when Justices Rutledge, Jackson and Reed rose from the bench, and having recused themselves, left the courtroom.” Three of the justices on the Supreme Court lived in neighborhoods with racially restrictive covenants! Highly recommended, a gripping account of the extreme racial bias embedded in American culture and the determined people who struggled to overcome it.
Captain Robert H. Domey: The Namesake of Domey's Dome by Carol Johnson Collins. Local author recounts the story of her husband's grandfather: his work on the Long Trail and his many years of activism in the Green Mountain Club. I was also intrigued by the story of Fred Collin's grandmother, Emma, who hiked the whole length of the Long Trail in 1937 with her husband. A pleasant little memoir (47 pages) of interest to fans of the Green Mountain Club and Vermont history.
The Reluctant Sinner by June Tate. A hardworking young dressmaker takes up a second career as barmaid in a brothel to provide care for her dying father. Not surprisingly, all sorts of unpleasant consequences follow. Set in Southhampton, England during World War I. Romance in the rags-to-riches genre.
The Emperor's New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth by Irving Kirsch. How to make yourself really unpopular: do groundbreaking research that demonstrates conclusively that a whole class of very lucrative drugs are no better than placebo and have dangerous side-effects besides. This lively book summarizes his research and explains why the drugs appeared to be effective in various studies. The last chapter of the book reviews the most recent research on treating depression. Certain types of talk therapy have an excellent track record, so does exercise. Note: he strongly recommends that people not quit taking antidepressants they are already on...going off suddenly can be dangerous!
U.S. News & World Report. I'm going to be reviewing all of the magazines in our collection over the next few months. U.S. News comes out monthly and usually has a particular focus: I read the April 2010 issue on “The Future of Energy.” The articles are basic, straightforward and easy to read. The tone is calm and seems to be trying for a somewhat neutral stance. The articles I found most informative were the one on our outdated electrical grid and the article about the new electric cars.
Just finished “weeding” the children's non-fiction. This means that I looked at every single book on the shelves and pulled out books that haven't been circulating for a few year. We tend to think of non-fiction as hard work, but there are a lot of amusing books in this area: fairy tales and folk tales, for example, many with beautiful illustrations. Poetry, sports, science, gardening, history, music and games. I checked out How Things are Made (j 670 H) for my grandson and he loved it. Kids wonder how matches are made, or those bags of cookies at the store or airplanes and this book has the pictures and the explanations to answer those questions. Have a look at the kid's non-fiction area, I think you'll be surprised how much fun you and your children can have with these books.
Review by Paul Hanke: Daring Young Men by Richard Reeves. The Haiti earthquake left us anxiously watching our TVs as the U.S., the U.N., and NGOs struggled to get aid into that poverty ravaged country. Daring Young Men tells the heroic story of the 1948-49 Berlin Airlift, where the U.S., Britain, and France delivered over 2.3 million tons of desperately needed food, coal, medicine, and other supplies to the starving citizens of Berlin after the Soviet Union blockaded the city in an effort to drive out the Western powers.
Nothing seemed to stop the relief effort. Planes landed every 3 minutes. The unloading record was 19 tons in 7 minutes. Nineteen thousand Berliners worked to build a new airport. Fifty percent were women, sometimes working in high heels (their only shoes). To maintain the planes, Gen. William Tunner didn't hesitate to call upon his former enemy, Maj. Gen. Hans Detlef von Rohden, who provided 5,000 German mechanics. American pilot Gail Halvorsen (the “Candy Bomber”), on his own initiative, dropped 10 tons of donated sweets for German children using mini-parachutes made from handkerchiefs. The San Francisco Chronicle editorialized that while Congress must be concerned about expenses, the Airlift was not the place to economize. German children were chosen by lottery for evacuation. An American pilot who had to parachute into the Soviet sector was rescued by a former German P.O.W. whose injured leg had been saved by American doctors. After the blockade ended, 500,000 Germans lined the unannounced departure route of Commanding General Lucius Clay to express their gratitude. An inspiring and heartwarming tale with many lessons for today.
Heart and Soul by Maeve Binchy (downloadable audio from Overdrive or book). Set in Dublin at a heart clinic and filled with the author's usual characters plus a few additions. Her main focus is on the “new Irish” who are pouring into the country to work at menial jobs for low pay, but there is plenty of romance and fun. Pleasant escapism.
The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale. The haunting story of a young country woman who flees her home for the anonymity of London in 1752. An unpleasant fellow left her expecting a baby, the poverty of her family leaves her feeling hopeless—why not run away? In London she becomes assistant to the mysterious Mr. Blacklock, a fireworks maker, who is, she discovers, searching for the secret of colored fire.
Aiding and Abetting by Muriel Spark (downloadable audio from NetLibrary). One of the reasons I enjoy audiobooks is the way they stretch my reading habits. For some reason I will listen to books I would probably never read. This book fits that description. Based on an actual murder case from 1974, it is the odd story of Hildegard Wolf, a Paris-based therapist, who finds herself treating two men who claim to be Lord Lucan, who accidentally murdered the family nanny instead of his wife and has been on the run for 25 years, helped by various upper class friends. An odd, but nevertheless entertaining book which addresses questions of loyalty, social class, mental health and morality.
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