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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

CJ Verburg’s Another Number for the Road  has all you could ever want from a murder mystery set in two iconic periods of American history: the 1960s: Free Speech, Free Love, Stop the War, Civil Rights and sex, drugs, rock and roll; and 1980s: Reaganomics, Cold War Collapse, Punk Rock, big hair and bigger shoulders.

Rock journo cum detective, Cory Goodwin (who has as many names as identities) goes on a “Magical Mystery Tour,” and then some, to recover her true inner self which has been consumed and subsumed by the demands of her multimillionaire son-of-the-founder-of-a-cosmetics-conglomerate husband’s boardroom betrayal of all they meant to each other as writing romantics who eloped in creative Paris and crashed in corporate necessity in Boston.

Cordelia Goodwin Thorne had many years of protest activism and rock star groupie antics to keep her from sinking into the paradox of her journo daydreams and her cosmetic charity dinner reality.

She joins the “Magical Mystery Tour” when she learns that The Rind is the mystery band—a group she interviewed for a magazine as a teenager. She aims to rekindle her past admiration for the much-maligned strongman of the band, the appropriately named, Dan Quasi, who, after the brutal murder of his friend and co-band member, Mickey Ascher, takes a runner and hides out for the twenty year hiatus, having lost his wife and his French bit to aforementioned co-band member.

Did this Quasi musician kill his best friend? Or was it the French bit? Or possibly her jilted lover and third band member, also appropriately named, Roach? Or has the mild-mannered Terry, fourth band member, been hiding a violent temper all these years?

The process of discovery is further energized by the author’s experience as a playwright and director. CJ Verburg makes use of the theatrical technique of juxtaposing two scenes on stage at once: flashbacks, backstory, supposition and real time, one upon the other, while skillfully  juggling a cast of characters that would daunt Cecil B. DeMille and D.W. Griffiths.

Another Number for the Road  will satisfy all fans of complex, convoluted whodunits who remember the Sixties with longing and survived the Eighties, Nineties and are in deep with the Twentieth Century.

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One of the first books that sparked my interest in history, and particularly the Middle Ages, A Distant Mirror, purported to compare the 14th Century to the 20th. At the time the book was published, I was deep in studies of Comparative Literature, World Literature, Women’s Fiction et cetera, et cetera.

Cover image of A Distant MirrorWhat enthralled me about A Distant Mirror was the inevitable connection to tales of chivalry and classic romance—a literary convention that is neither tragedy nor comedy; a heroic or mysterious prose narrative set in a distant time or place; a medieval tale of knightly adventure.

Barbara W. Tuchman turned the study of history into a great adventure and a lifelong love of all things Medieval.

I loaned my copy to a fellow Mediophile (I think I’ve made that word up) and she never returned it, so it was with great pleasure that I found Tuchman’s book is available on the iBookstore.

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We know the counterpart to the title of this blog, starting with sugar but enough is said about the Spice and Nice. About twenty years ago, I learned the counterpoint regarding boys from a book titled, Bringing Up Boys. I have three.

ytrinaVariously known as “the mother of those three” and “so you’re the one responsible for those three,” I had a requirement for some backup to my theory that boys are different and the school system, though designed by men was made for girls.

“They always have to be first” was the constant cry from beleaguered schoolmarms. “They get into everything.” “They cannot sit quietly.” “They have to win.” My response to all of which was then and still is “Your point being?”

Lately, I have met an increasing number of women who are in the same position I was twenty years ago. I tell them to enjoy every wild moment. Boys are wonderful. Teenage boys are nut-cases but still wonderful. Young men are fragile and wonderful. Grown men, raised from the start as uniquely boys, are the best there can ever be of the male. They make good husbands and fathers, prepared to take on the hard work of raising their own sons and daughters.

Besides my own good husband and the good father who showed me everything I ever needed to know about men, I had help from a colleague, Liz Brady – a child psychologist with whom I worked while serving on the Community Health Council for Carmarthenshire. Herself a mother of two sons and a daughter, her special interest was in the development and mental health of adolescents. One aspect of her field of study was the extreme suicide rate of boys and men between the ages of 14 and 35.

I took notice.

Brady’s research revealed that young men engage in dangerous behavior and activities that result in death far more frequently than do any other sex or age group. They are four times as likely to commit suicide—intentional or unintentional. During my eldest son’s teenage years, he attended the funerals of four of his schoolmates, all of whom were under the age of twenty.

One hung himself in the garage of his parents’ home, driven to desperation by his drug addiction. One slammed his head into a cast iron drain pipe while speeding on his motorcycle—without a helmet—through the shopping district early one morning. The third was hurled through the roof of a car because he did not wear a seatbelt—the driver fell asleep and ran up the tail end of a cattle truck. And the fourth jumped in front of a train in a neighboring town, overcome by depression.

All were young men with aspirations and talent, families that loved them.

Keeping my sons alive became my raison d’etre.

BringingUpBoysHow do you do that in a society that vilifies masculinity, and yet, will not allow men to embrace their fragility either? When social media hacks rant about a tacky shirt to the detriment of a great scientific achievement?

Yes, little boys are naughty and rough, they torment little girls and test the fire extinguishers in the swank hotels. Give them any encouragement, they demand even more. They try our patience and go out of their way to annoy and challenge any restriction.

They also explore fearlessly. Boys are the reason our species crawled from the mud and went to the moon—most probably because a girl said she wanted a chunk of rock. Boys are hard-wired to achieve, largely at the behest of sugar & spice dishes they want to impress. Why? Instinct. Survival of the species.

The smartest girls choose the male most likely to provide a safe environment for offspring and that means he already owns a house or has “prospects” or “status” likely to enable him to achieve some or all of these.

Except when they want or have to impress, men don’t care how they dress—one pair of shoes is enough for some. Rightly, they figure their achievements count for a lot more than a Hawaiian shirt. We can understand their thinking when creepy 70 year old men are snapping up the prettiest girls in the twenty-something age group.

My father & my eldest brother c1940

My sons are not out of the dark days yet. What gives me hope for their survival is their choice of wives and girl friends. Or more likely, the women who have liked what they’ve seen when these three young men are on their best behavior (and occasionally, their worst).

After all, has your heart ever not melted when you see a big guy holding a child for whom he has accepted responsibility?

To all the parents who are raising boys, I strongly recommend Dobson’s work in Bringing Up Boys. You’ll enjoy your male children more, accept they are a challenge and understand the important service you are providing to the women of the future. And, by all means, teach them to iron shirts and soft-boil eggs.

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A few days ago, Kate Steinle was murdered at a popular tourist location less than six miles from my home. Her killer was a five-times deported, recently released felon awaiting another deportation hearing. (http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Pier-shooting-suspect-had-been-released-from-S-F-6365228.php).

A young woman, living just 20 miles from my home, was brutally raped and beaten by a gang of young men and so horribly injured that she will never fully recover (https://www.baycitizen.org/news/crime/hearing-reveals-horrific-details-crime/). Prior to this, not far away, another girl was sexually abused and her humiliation made public, causing her to commit suicide (http://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/calif-teen-commits-suicide-after-alleged-rape/).

Women and girls who are trafficked into my state are raped as they cross the border, their underwear hung on ‘rape trees’ in a neighboring state(http://www.latina.com/lifestyle/news-politics/rape-trees-found-along-southern-us-border) as trophies by the ‘coyotes’ who tattoo them with bar codes to facilitate their sale into sex slavery and subsequent rental for sexual services (http://www.seattletimes.com/opinion/branded-by-a-pimp-sex-trafficking-victim-speaks-out/).

There are several unifying details in all of these stories (the very tip of the gory pile of crimes committed within the past few months).

  • The Main Stream Media ignore all this evidence of the threat to the citizens of the United States. Why? If latina.com is horrified by what is being done to women, why aren’t the MSM equally outraged?
  • Although so many of the victims of these crimes are women and girls, there is no collective outcry from other women. Why aren’t women’s rights advocates outraged?
  • The vast majority of the these savage acts were perpetrated by a particular ethnic group, the MSM rarely mention either the ethnic group or their legal/illegal status as residents. Even some of the more conservative news outlets will not say “Illegal Aliens” – most stick with the innocuous “immigrants”.

Immigrants are people who chose to leave their homeland to make a new life in another country, embrace the traditions and laws of their chosen country, enrich their new country with their energy and talents, and make an effort to assimilate into the civic life of their new home.

Many of my family emigrated to the US before it became a country. More recently, members of my family emigrated legally, standing in line, paying their fees, submitting to medical examinations, providing stacks of legal documents, waiting for appointments, waiting for letters, waiting for interviews, waiting for approval, giving their word that they will never become a burden on the public purse.

Illegal Aliens have already broken the laws of the country they have invaded, are already a burden on the public purse, too many of them are here to steal, sell their drugs, provide the dregs of society with gross services at the expense of their trafficked victims.

Their presence drives down the wages of American workers, displaces Americans from low-skilled jobs, and the MSM repeats the absolute lie that they do the work Americans won’t do.

I have cleaned houses. My mother cooked school meals. My father picked potatoes. My husband has waited on tables. My sons have scrubbed hospital floors, flipped hamburgers and stocked shelves.

AdiosAmerica

I consider Ann Coulter a hero.  She tells the truths that sycophantic politicians, so-called civil rights advocates and lily-livered news outlets refuse to tell.

We have to ask, “Why?”

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The House of MirthThe House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The House of Mirth
is an exquisite, classic tragedy. Wharton’s creation, Lily Bart, is among the truly honest, tragic heroines – driven by her best instincts and her highest ideals to make choices that lead to sink further into the mire of her society.

As Wharton explains, Lily Bart was raised to be decorative. When that fails because of her own, inner standards of behavior and expectation, her life takes on the inevitable nightmare of rejection and exclusion.

The two people who love her throughout her descent are blind to her plight in some instances. Gerty Farish is the most faithful friend but her own experience gives her a bias against Lily’s peculiar situation.

Lawrence Selden loves Lily for the very reasons that her position in society is in peril, but when she needs him most, he deserts her.

I read every word of this novel, studied the human frailties and heroism. For many reasons, I believe Lily Bart is one of the greatest heroines of modern literature. I recommend this book to anyone who is a student of humanity.

I doubt there is a finer chronicler of American society of the Edwardian era, pre-World War I, than Edith Wharton.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

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Book cover image The Lat OutlawWhen I was writing for Avalon Books, I met Stone Wallace and interviewed him when his Western novel, The Last Outlaw, was released in July of 2011. That interview was reposted here last month. I had ordered a copy of the book to be delivered to a relative’s address in Conneticutt. On the last day I was there and at the last possible moment, as we were walking down the street to a local restaurant, the UPS truck stopped opposite the house and I ran back, certain that UPS had accomplished what the online bookseller had promised.

BlackRansomIn the case of Black Ransom, Stone had by now signed with an agent and was working on another noir Western. He asked if I would read and comment on the manuscript.  On the promise that the superb The Last Outlaw offered, I happily agreed.

After several months, the paperback arrived in my mailbox and I jumped in.

Black Ransom is not the standard Western adventure. Like Cash McCall in The Last Outlaw, the hero, Ehron Lee Burrows, is a complex and eminently sympathetic character, caught up in a desperate situation.  He has no control over a recalcitrant judge or the outlaws whose actions involved him in a murder. He loses all that is most precious to him.

Vengeful and cruel in-laws, as well as corrupt and callous representatives of the law, conspire to destroy an innocent man. His treatment and seemingly hopeless circumstances contribute to a relentless emotional and physical spiral to an inevitable end.

Wallace has created a vivid and compelling portrait of the disintegration of a good man, dismissed by society as a criminal and corrupted by the hatred and malice of his fellow prisoners.

The author’s descriptions of prison life in the post-Civil War western territory, his understanding of human strength and frailty and the premise of this tale, make an intense and surprising novel, hard and realistic.

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The Camp of the Saints
The Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Prophetic, timely, a difficult book but compelling read. Fittingly finished reading this book today, 14 juillet, Bastille Day, but I wonder if the French revolutionaries of 1789 would be in The Village or on the beach.

View all my reviews

This book speaks entirely for itself. I cannot fault its logic, as it is. There are many notes struck that are resonant at this time in our history. Written in the 1970s, The Camp of Saints reflects what the Wall Street Journal has, this very day, claimed is the worst time since the 1970s.

I will not forget the experience of reading this book and am glad I did.

 

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