Where The Crawdads Sings by Delia Owens

June 30th, 2019 — 1:25pm

Category: FG - Fiction General, FM - Fiction Mystery, T - Recommended for Teenagers

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Where the Crawdads Sings by Delia Owens

The story takes the reader to a place I would not usually choose to visit- the wild nature land in North Carolina. A young girl is gradually abandoned by her siblings and parents and grows up alone in the marshland. She has her dad’s motorboat and she can fish and collect mussels et cetera and sell them in the local town in order to get gas for the boat and the essentials of life. She is known by the town folks as the wild marsh girl. While living a very isolated lifestyle, she has on occasion to meet two local young men. One of them teaches her to read and she ultimately over many years becomes a renowned expert in writing and painting the local nature life. Since the author is a well-known expert in nature writing, her depictions are quite beautiful and fascinating.

The marsh girl is attracted to both young men and one does not treat her very well. There is an incident where one of the young men dies under mysterious circumstances. So, there is intrigue and ultimately a courtroom drama, which is, as interesting and well-written as any literary courtroom scene that you might encounter

So, we have sensitive novel about living in the wildlife with all the beauty and mysteries of nature. We also have a sensitive depiction of a naïve young woman who feels her yearnings, as do all the creatures of nature. On top of all these, we have a mysterious death and a murder trial. For me, half of the time this book was a page turner, the other half, I was turning the pages to get through the book. I conclude by giving it a mixed review. (2019)

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Howard Stern Comes Again by Howard Stern

June 11th, 2019 — 11:26am

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir

Howard Stern Comes Again by Howard Stern

If you are a Howard Stern fan, undoubtedly you have put this book on your reading list. While I never subscribed to his special Sirius radio channel, I do remember him from his earlier am Radio days and his periodic TV appearances and also I have seen him on “America’s Got Talent” TV series. He is well-known for his out spoken sexually explicit speech (including of course the title of this latest book) and his confrontation of his radio guests.

In this book, he has chosen to include transcripts of some of his interviews with various celebrity guests over the years. This includes interviews with Madonna, Jerry Seinfeld, Stephen Colbert, Paul McCartney, Conan O’Brien, Joan Rivers, Larry David, Michael J Fox, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, John Stewart, David Letterman, and many others. There also are several interviews with Donald Trump before he became a political figure.

However, the essence of this book is that he has provided a preface to each interview where he attempts to discuss his and his guests state of mind at the time of the interview, (which could have been many years ago or perhaps quite recently). A constant theme in his discussion is how he himself has changed over the years because of his own psychotherapy. He acknowledges his self-centered personality, insensitivity to his guests and how his therapy has allowed him to be much more empathic to other people. He uses his own insight into himself to encourage his guest to reveal their deep-seated feelings, and at times regrets, in their relationship with others. Of course, most of the people being interviewed and discussed are very well known celebrities. Particularly, poignant is when he discusses how some of his guest reacted to the death of some other well-known celebrities, especially those who died by suicide.

Toward the end of the book he appears to regress and revert to the old classic Stern as he presents an interview with his mother where he is obsessed about his own conception and how and when his father may have stopped using a condom.

I am sure this book will be quite successful and Stern’s fans will suck it up.

 

 

 

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You Never Said. We Didn’t Ask: A Legacy From World War I- Poems by Estella Lauter

June 5th, 2019 — 11:14pm

Category: HI - History, Poetry

You Never Said. We Didn’t Ask: A Legacy From World War I

Poems by Estella Lauter

My freshman college roommate at the University of Rochester was Chuck Lauter. His dad was Charles F. Lauter (1890-1990) who was a World War I veteran. Chuck married one of our classmates, Estella who addition to becoming a parent and grandparent also became an accomplished award-winning poet. Just recently she has published this 24 page small book of poems about the World War I experience and the effects of war upon a small group of soldiers which included Chuck’s dad. As the title suggests she was not told directly about it by these men but was able to reconstruct their experiences from some subsequent writings about what they went through.

I don’t imagine that high school and even college students get grounding in the history and the personal experiences of those who fought in the Great War. This book is a wonderful introduction as well as a reminder of our heritage. At times it is a narrative, other times it is an emotional insight but most of all it is a beautiful tribute to the great soldiers who are embedded in American history, (This book is available on Amazon-click here)

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Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

May 8th, 2019 — 5:01pm

Category: HI - History

 

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

I always felt that I was fairly well educated in American history, dating back to the Revolutionary War. I had also studied World War I and World War II and of course the Holocaust. In recent years, I became more aware of the Japanese internment and over the years, I read a fair amount about the history of various immigrant groups in the United States. I must admit that I never thought too much about the history of the Native American Indians in this country nor was this topic covered in my schooling. Of course, I knew that the original explorers and settlers of the Western United States did take away the land of the Native Americans who were obviously here first. I have some vague awareness that there had been some reparations which I am reminded of when I would see advertisements for gambling casinos in California that I knew could only legally function because they were allowed to be run by the Native Americans.

This book was a game changer! It starts off as a real life “who done it”. It is of course a non-fiction book and the reader gets the feeling it’s going to be an interesting true to life mystery. There are a couple of unexplained murders which have occurred. The setting is the 1920s and the location is in the western United States. The victims happen to be Native Americans who are members of the Osage tribe. Suspects come and go. There are some more unsolved deaths which may or may not be accidents or perhaps crimes. Maybe there was a poisoning. There are some attempts at prosecuting possible murderers but the trials usually don’t work out.

It turns out that where the Osage tribe members have lived is on an oil-rich land. The Federal government has worked out a plan where every legitimate member of the Osage tribe gets “Head Rights” which turns out to be lots of money which makes them and their descendants quite wealthy. Of course, when they die, these “Rights” go to their heirs unless they assign them to someone else, perhaps a caretaker of their children, a white spouse or some other arrangement which the soon-to-be deceased member had decided to make. Over the years, all sorts of devious plots are suspected including bribery of juries, medical pathologists who did not quite find the bullet in the body, doctors who might have injected some substance that could have led to the death, undertakers who seemed to be involved in some way and just about everybody else. Families of the deceased became suspicious of the reasons for the deaths of their loved ones and how the inheritance was worked out. Numerous private detectives were drawn into these cases. In fact, these situations probably spawned the development of the occupation of private detectives and investigators in this country or at least was a major part of it.

Of course, the deaths and the suspected murders that were occurring over the years were taking place on the land of the Osage tribe, which is considered federal land, and therefore, federal investigators became involved in looking into these possible crimes. These were occurring at the same time that the new director of the soon-to-be named Federal Bureau of Investigation was trying to establish his new bureau. That man, of course, was J. Edgar Hoover and this story is also about the founding of this American institution and the ins and outs of that organization.

The author of this book literally spent years researching it. He spoke with many grandchildren and other descendants of the victims as well as some of the descendants of the suspected murderers. He traveled to many locations, studied archives and personal papers in addition to conducting many personal interviews. In fact, literally, one-tenth of the book are references, citations and summaries of newspaper articles and reports of personal discussions that the author had.

The end result is that the reader is left with an understanding of a piece of American history, which is as comprehensive and complex as any phase of American history. It is not only complicated, colorful, and as horrid as the story of gangsters in America during prohibition, or the tales of the various crime families about whom stories have been written and even equally outrageous as some of the infamous political scandals that have occurred in this country. On top of all of this is the amazing truth that you probably never heard of these events, that is, until you read this book.

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The Library Book by Susan Orlean

April 27th, 2019 — 2:32pm

Category: HI - History

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

How can a book about the library be expected to hold our interest? Well, the main focus of this book is one particular library, the Los Angeles Public Library which famously almost burned to the ground in 1986, but it is really about much more. This book describes the long line of librarians who have played the leading role in this particular institution dating back to the 19th Century and forward to the modern age. As is often the case when discussing edifices where great things have happened, the architecture and the architects who created them are also very much a part of the story. The book also discusses the antagonism towards libraries by dictators and oppressive regimes throughout the ages characterized but not limited to the book burning by the Nazis.

The author obviously spent years compiling this book and shares with the reader her many hours of discussion with the people who work and serve in the library. It becomes clear that working in a library has been a calling for most of them and a dedication of skilled men and women who proudly wear the title librarian.

As the author travels through the halls of the library, we see how the function of a library is not only the presentation and the sharing of all types of books, but that the library also is a font of knowledge with availability of art, historical documents, patents, music and much more. As we travel through this building, we also appreciate that many of the daily inhabitants of the library are people of all ages; the elderly, children, scholars, students, artists, immigrants, etc. We see that the library is and can, not only be a place of obtaining special knowledge and education, but a place for social programs and creative, innovative activities. It is also interesting to see that the library is also often a refuge for the homeless.

In the past, the library became known as a place where one could visit and ask a dedicated staff to direct him or her to a source where they can get any type of information and answer any specific question. In fact, the library has always provided a phone service where you could call in and get an answer to the most unique or mundane question. Therefore, now that we are in the age of the computer, with Google, Alexa, and Siri, etc., where one can ask your own personal device any question and get an answer, one might think that the library should become an institution of the past. Interestingly enough, however, it appears that libraries are reinventing themselves and are becoming more popular than ever. Not only do the libraries, through the work of the dedicated librarian staff, assist people, how to reach and query the Internet about anything but they provide access to the most up-to-date equipment and technique for the use of everyone including the poor, the homeless, the elderly, children, everyone, et cetera. The library offers classes where people can be educated how to use these modern techniques. And of course, the library can also be a social meeting place. And most important, the library now is on the cutting edge of all forms of knowledge, history and communication. This book is an eye-opener that shows a library of the past, the present and the future.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

April 16th, 2019 — 9:54pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, T - Recommended for Teenagers

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Any title that exclaims “absolutely true” raises the possibility that it may not be a 100% true and that the author may have taken some poetic license. However, this 2007 novel is clearly purported to be based on the childhood and young adult experiences of the author, Sherman Alexie who is an indigenous American who grew up on the reservation (or “rez” as the main character might say) of the Spokane Indian tribe. The story depicts his early family, school life, interaction with his teachers and friends, especially one key character, his best friend, Rowdy.

Poverty, alcoholism and despair on the “rez” are clearly shown. Then there is the pivotal event in our hero’s life which is his decision to transfer to a school in a white community 22 miles away from where he lives and his need at times to hitch a ride back and forth to school if his often-drunk dad cannot drive him.

We are shown how the main character interacts with the teachers, and other students at his new school, some of whom beat and bully him. We are also shown his accomplishments in varsity sports at high school in a very well-told fast-moving book.

The book is meant for young adults although apparently there has been some resistance in some places because of the realistic depiction of alcoholism, bullying, violence, profanity, sexuality, racism and other realistic situations. This did not prevent the book and the author from receiving numerous prestigious awards for this book, including the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. It not only depicted issues specifically to this character and his life, but examined the universal themes of lasting friendship, aspirations, and even how the awareness of death and experiencing loss of a loved one impacts us all.

This  is a relatively short book and there is an added-on section, which contains the author’s perspective from his adult point of view many years after he wrote the original manuscript. There is also an unusual component of the book which is involved with cartoons. The main character in the book was shown to express his feelings and view of contemporary life by drawing various cartoons. In preparation for this book, the author asked graphic and cartoon artist, Ellen Forney to create cartoons throughout the book. We are not sure why he did not use his childhood drawings. Perhaps, this was a fictional component of the story. It was also difficult to clearly view the cartoons on the iPad on which I read the book. However, this did not detract from a thoroughly enjoyable literary experience which I would recommend to all readers.

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A Minister in a Box by Aaron Ben-Shahar

March 30th, 2019 — 12:50pm

Category: FT- Fiction Thriller

A Minister in a Box  by Aaron Ben-Shahar

This is an exciting adventure story that goes back and forth mostly between Jeronti, a small African nation, England and Israel. There are secret agents, some who had been very high up in the Mossad, as well a head Mafia guy, There is even an anesthesiologist who will keep the man in the box sedated as he is kidnapped in a most daring caper. At times I had difficulty keeping track of the characters, as their names were unfamiliar ones. But that did not stop this from being a page turner. (Yes, I actually read this in soft covered book.) Although this is touted as pure fiction, I could not help but wonder if some of the events may really have happened since the author has a history of having served in highly sensitive positions in Israel’s General Security Services.

 

 

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Time and Again by Jack Finney

March 26th, 2019 — 10:04pm

Category: FSF - Fiction Science Fiction

Time and Again by Jack Finney

As many readers know, this 1970 novel is about time travel, a subject that comes up from “time to time” in science fiction stories. In this case, the current book by Mr. Finney is a classic book in this genre.

The method of inducing time travel in the story is by “self-hypnosis” done by a unique individual who is familiar with the circumstances in the setting to which he is to travel and would be in a location which existed in the past as well as in the current time. It also is required that the time traveler has the ability to do self-hypnosis. Since I know a little about hypnosis, I found this method did not feel acceptable to me to induce “time travel” and therefore, I found it difficult to suspend my reality testing and imagine the method that was being used to achieve this goal. Whereas, another well-known book titled, 11/23/63 by Stephen King used a time travel method known as “rabbit hole” where the traveler steps through an opening such as one in the story that was in a pantry and then comes out in a particular time period and when he returns, he uses the same method to return to the time from which he departed. This method seemed more feasible to me. Go figure, I can’t really justify this critique.

Aside from the method of travel, the key problem in time travel is whether the time traveler will influence or effect or change events in the future (or in the time in which the traveler originated). This, of course, is a fascinating concept and is, in fact, a key element around which the story is built. Well, I don’t really accept the possibility of time travel at all. This aspect of theoretical time travel reminds me how everything we do influences the future. For example, if I had not accepted a blind date many years ago, my children and grandchildren would not exist as I know them today and my life would be quite different. Therefore, in some way, we all have influenced other people’s lives and maybe the course of history by every element in which we appear and interact with others. I find this interesting food for thought, but otherwise, this book was a fairly good adventure story with a few moments of literary tension.

 

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

March 19th, 2019 — 11:51am

Category: FG - Fiction General, FH - Fiction Historical

 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

This book introduces the reader to the story of Koreans who migrated from Japan shortly before the outbreak of World War II. It also traces the occupation of Korea by the Japanese prior to this time and follows a family who lived in Japan for four generations. This book tells the story of discrimination against the Koreans by the Japanese. Through the depiction of various characters, the reader learns about family values, the role of women, religious beliefs and the impact of culture on the lives of this multi-generational Korean family.

The book takes the reader on an interesting journey which not only studies all aspects of the personalities and values of the characters, but also paints a very vivid picture of the bustling street markets in Korea as well as the life in the universities in Japan. There is also a very interesting and revealing story about “Pachinko”, a gambling parlor game that is common and also the connection to the criminal underworld of the people who run these games.

This is a good read which pulls back the curtain and reveals the lives of people who we may not have had the opportunity to meet and understand.

 

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On Gold Mountain by Lisa See

February 10th, 2019 — 4:23pm

Category: AM - Autobiography or Memoir, HI - History, P - Political

On Gold Mountain: A Hundred-Year Odyssey of My Chinese-American Family by Lisa See.

If you do not know it, “Gold Mountain” is California and the story begins as the author’s great-great-grandfather Fong See arrives on the West Coast of the United States where he works making herbal remedies for other Chinese men working to build the railroad.. The book traces his intermarriage to Ticie and how he becomes involved in Chinese antiques and furniture. The arc of the story includes three generations, many of whom stayed in the family business, mostly in the Los Angeles area. We followed the progenitor and other family members as they often visit China and give money to family back home, and bring old Chinese antiques and furniture back to the United States. We come to appreciate the outrageous discrimination against the Chinese including American laws that directly targeted this group. We also learn about Chinese customs including the practice where men often had multiple wives which might include concubines and prostitutes.

This is an important book about the history and roots of Chinese-Americans. It serves a purpose of also being a family record of the ancestors of the author as well as many Americans who have roots in the immigration from China. I feel educated and more enlightened having read this book. I can understand why the author, who has written many best-selling novels, would have chosen to share her family history in this book.

Having said all of the above, I found the book quite tedious to read. The author should have provided a clear usable family tree diagram to follow the different characters and the various relationships.( There was a small family tree at the beginning of the book , which was very difficult to read on the I-Pad,) To the non-Chinese reader, the names were unfamiliar and frequently sounded the same. In addition, sometimes it appears that the author used two different names for the same character.

The author’s previous success as a novelist, I am sure led many people to explore this book. In my case, I only stayed with it because it was a selection of my book club. In the end, I am enlightened about Americans with Chinese heritage, but this is not a book that I would recommend for enjoyable reading.

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