Saturday, December 31, 2005

Bartimaeus Trilogy - The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud

I was going to just listen to this a bit of it to see if my son would like it for Christmas. Now that I am almost done with the second book and listening to this first one again with my son, I can say confidently - yes - he love's it, and so do I! In one sense this is like Harry Potter, because it has a complete and complex magical world that coexists with a non-magical world in London - with references to places outside England. But here the magicians rule - at least in England - and they don't seem to be ethical or benevolent. The setting is current day England, as cars, phones and computers are used, but magic is more powerful than technology. Magicians actually don't have any real powers themselves, but they can summon various levels of spirits or demons to do their bidding. So our main characters are a young magician Nathaniel, who is apprenticed to a not very effective magician Mr. Underwood. He is smart and powerful, so he takes it upon himself to learn things and summons a djinni - Bartimaeus - a 5,000 year old spirit with an attitude. Great conversations!

Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry

This is considered a sequel to Lowry's Newberry Award winning young adult book The Giver, but neither my son nor I can see the connection, except that it is another comunity formed in some post-nuclear world. This is a pretty nasty, primitive society where men and women are quite seperate, and kids are not reaised in a loving way. Whenever someone dies, is born not perfect, or is injured in a way that leaves them unable to be a productive part of the community, they are taken to "the field", where they are left to be devowered by the animals. Now that I think about it, there are a lot of holes in the logic of this world, but it must be hard to create a whole new social and physical structure.

Kira is the main character - though having a deformed leg, she was saved at birth by her mother and has an unusual talent in her fingers for sewing images with colored threads. When her mother dies she is taken by the council to live in an old building with indoor plumbing to work on her sewing. Shw connects with Thomas, a boy who is a skilled carver and Jo, a skilled singer. They are the ones to provide the creativity to the community in an annual ritual. But they discover there are communities outside who live differently.

Kira is a wonderful character - strong through her suffering, fascinating through her art. we watch her learn the art of dyeing threads different natural colors. (Makes me almost want to try it myself.)

As with The Giver, Lowry leaves us thinking about how we relate to each other - the division of labor, the parenting methods, the way we govern ourselves, the way we exclude some, creativity among us, how we deal with handicapped, how we deal with our dead, the rituals in our lives and much more. I knew my son would hate the ending - the future is left to your imagination. (finished listening 12/22 and 12/28)

Red Lily by Nora Roberts

Red Lily, the last in her Garden trilogy (Blue Dahlia & Black Rose), looks at three women in different phases of their lives who find love and solve an old family mystery - finally putting to rest a ghost that has been haunting Harper House for generations. This time it is Haley, the distant relative who arrives in Harper House pregnant and is taken in and given a job in the garden center. In the earlier books we saw her give birth to Lily with Roz's oldest son Harper being present. So, there is no surprise in who is going to hook up in this last book. They both feel the other is off limits and feel weird developing this relationship under the eyes and roof of Roz, but they find it is OK to love each other and as they deal with the nasty ghost, their relationshipp solidifies.

One of these times I will stop apologizing for reading this fluff, but I still think Roberts does a better job at fluff than most. Again, I learned something more about the gardening business, an important piece of this trilogy. This time it was about Harper's job propogating plants and developing hybrids. What a painstaking process! I continued to like the geneological research done on the ghost, though I thought - wouldn't it be nice to always have a ghost around to tell you what really happened. The part that really drew me to this particular book was Haley's story of how she got pregnant - in grief over the loss of her father she turned to a friend. When he went off to college she realized she was pregnant and for various reasons chose not to tell him about the pregnancy. I am glad Roberts describes this variation of single motherhood. Of course the patness of it all sometimes drives me nuts, the perfectness of the relationships - how all three couples and their kids get along so smoothly, and they all get married within a year's time. But the rest keeps me reading Roberts.

Pompeii by Robert Harris

I had listened to this last year, but this was to be the book for our library discussion, so I thought I should reread it. A wonderful historical novel about the last few days of Pompeii. The main character is an aqueduct engineer. The whole Roman aqueduct system is fascinating - such precise engineering, and what seems to me advanced materials used - a cement that sets while under water, etc. Much of the social system was also shown - as the love interest of the engineer is a rich man's daughter. Pliny, an actual historical character is in the novel and it appears that much of his writings survived over the centuries. A possible avenue for future exploration.

Holly by Jude Deveraux

I thought this was one of the tolerable romance writers, but this wasn't much. Holly is an architect into restoring old homes. She gets her parents to purchase one in North Carolina and has fantasies from childhood about a historic estate and its owner, but Nick gets in the way, etc. Some interesting facts about old houses and their restoration, but the plot left much to be desired.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The March by E.L. Doctrow

This is one I picked up because of reviews. I have not read anything by Doctrow, but am interested in novels about the Civil War that could help me understand it better. This novel followed Sherman's path through Georgia and the Carolinas in the last few months of the war. It told stories of slaves (I didn't know they followed the northern army), a Southern white woman, various soldiers from both sides, a doctor, and gave a good descriptions of the land and cities on the way. I was fascinated by the medical aspect of the war and wondered what innovations were really created during that war. It reminded me of the TV show Mash and the medical innovations made by those doctors in Korea. My favorite character was a slave girl that looked white (her father was a white), who falls in love with a white northern soldier.
(listened to in November, 2005)

Dazzle by Judith Krantz

Another rummage sale special. Never having read anything by Krantz, this was OK for a fluff romance. I did like the descriptions of the field of photography and the theme of saving land along the California coast from overdevelopment. I was in California acouple of years ago and learned that one family owned more or less all of what is now Malibu at one time and resisted creating a road along the coast. Though the ranch life was depicted as being hard work and simple lifestyle, there was a bit too much money and glamour in this book for my tastes.
(read in October, 2005)

First Wives Club by Olivia Goldsmith

Since I liked the movie years ago, I thought I'd enjoy the book, purchased cheaply at a rummage sale, and I did. Since infidelity seems to be a theme coursing through the lives around me this year, this book seemed appropriate. It is about the revenge three women take on their husbands and the husband of their deceased friend, after the husbands have taken up with younger women. I watched the movie again after reading the book, and though it is funny, the actresses wonderful, the book has a lot more to say about what is going on in everyone's minds. In the movie the women make the husbands support a crisis center, but in the book they really ruin all the men. I'm not thrilled that they were so upper class, but there was realistic angst in the men about overspending to live up to expectations, creating problems.
(finished reading in October, 2005)

Breathing Underwater by Alex Flinn

I picked up this young adult book at the ALA conference and had it signed. I guess I picked it up because it talks about dealing with anger, and I thought it might be useful for me to understand teen anger. It was a very powerful book about a boy who hits his girlfriend, because his dad beat him up. Slowly through group therapy sessions he heals. Though this gave great insights into the mind of a teen, I liked Touching Spirit Bear more. Somehow it dealt with the same issues, but in a better tale.
(read sometime fall 2005)

Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut

I hadn't read anything by Vonnegut in a long time, so this collection of short stories never published in a book seemed like a good thing to try out. I really liked Vonnegut in high school, early college, and I like him still, for his different take on the world. What I really enjoyed in this book was his introduction - read by him, about the demise of the short story, especially the short story magazines.
(finished listening to 9/20/05)

Giver by Lois Lowry

I had read this book in my children's literature class. We listened to it on our trip out West and my son like it. A strange, very prescribed world, and the boy just has to learn the truth about it and escape. I thought it was interesting how families told about their day and shared their dreams around the table. There was also a very strict asking for forgiveness and giving forgiveness ritual.
(finished listening to 8/24)

Divided in Death by J.D. Robb

Another Lt. Eve Dallas mystery. Great for keeping me awake on long trips.
(Listened to August 25, 2005)

Monday, October 24, 2005

Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich does a wonderful job in this book of showing how the past affects the present and intertwining her Native American heritage. This book started quite slowly, but had a few exciting life and death passages. Since I was listening to it, the jumps in time and place were a bit more disconcerting that if I had the book in hand and could flip back to see where certain characters fit in. Again, I ended up borrowing the book from the library to fill in the gaps, and it now has been too long since I read it to write this up properly.
Part One occurs in the present in New England, where we meet the antique dealer telling the story. As a result of an accident, a man dies, and she is asked to sell the contents of his house. Here, she finds the painted drum, and in an atypical move, she keeps the drum herself, knowing she is somehow connected to it and has to return it to the people that created it.
Part Two starts in the present in the Native American community in the northern Midwest. Bernhard knows the story of the drum and tells it, as it is the story of his ancestors - a story of love and betrayal.
Part Three occurs in the present day, where a couple of children almost die of cold and hunger, and in the process burn down their house, but are saved by the mystical sound of the drum.
Then we return to New England, where there is a certain closure to the story.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

This was a book recommended by my friend Liene and I was happy I read it. Again, I learned about a part of the world, about recent history in my favorite way - wrapped up in a story. This time it is Afghanistan in the last 40 years or so. The main charachter is Amir, a boy growing up in Afghanistan with his father in well to do circumstances. His best friend is Hassan, his family's servant boy, a Hazara -- an ethnic group considered lower class. When at one point he doesn't defend Hassan, he feels so guilty, his whole life changes, something gets broken inside. I enjoyed getting a feel for life in Afghanistan before all the turmoil began.

Amir soon left Afghanistan with his father and ended up in the San Franciso area. I could relate to the immigrant story - coming over with just the clothes on their backs, working hard in menial jobs, maintaining a community of Afghans (the author kept pronouncing it Afrans). They soon learned to scour yard sales and then resell the items in a flea market. This was not only a source of income, but a social event among the Afghans. For a while I was thinking - I am not seeing women in this story and how Muslims treat their women, but then the author himself says, that the boy doesn't know about women, since he grew up in a male household. That turns out to be a good thing, becasue he doesn't have the ingrained traditions of treating women as second class, and treats his wife in America well. I liked learning about their customs, their dating and marriage customs.

I do have to say the book was quite predictable in it's plot twists, even doing some heavy handed foreshadowing, and a friend called it melodramatic, but I didn't mind. When Amir returns to Afghanistan while the Taliban is in charge, he runs into a very sadistic character. This helped me understand that the Taliban is not so much a religious movement as a power trip.

(Listened to early October. The library copy was lost, so I ended up buying the book to check spellings. It will make a good gift for someone.)

Friday, September 30, 2005

Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen

A great young adult book about anger management and learning to cope with what life has dealt you. Even my son got it - he said though he has anger problems, they are not THAT bad. Well Cole is a very angry 14 year old. He beat up a kid at school and faces a trial and prison sentence, when Garvey, an Indian parole officer steps in and suggests circle justice. A group of community people concerned about Cole and the situation get together to help both Cole and his victim Peter heal. Cole is so out of control, they decide to send him to an island in Alaska to get in touch with himself and his anger. Cole agrees expecting to be able to swim off the island. He tries, but the tide is too strong for him. He sees a large white bear, a Spirit Bear, and since the bear doesn't show any fear, Cole attacks him. The bear doesn't take this very well and mauls him. While lying injured, he has time to think about his life and realizes he does want to live and live differently. Cole survives, but barely, and after recovering from his injuries, is given the chance to go back to the island and work on healing his soul.
(listened to in August, going through it a second time with my son in September)

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: a Comedy of Manners by Robert Heinlein (1985)

It’s been a long time since I’ve read any Heinlein, and since this was one of the books with a funny title I have students find in the library, I thought I’d read it. Basically it was a fun adventure story, where the main character Richard ends up running through numerous space stations, the moon and planets with his new wife Gwen/Hazel. I found a lot of things amusing and interesting in this futuristic tale. I had forgotten about his open sexuality mindset. But then it got very confusing with numerous time lines and the convoluted extended family over time and space of Lazarus Long. I vaguely remember Lazarus from Heinlein’s other books. Though I found the last third of the book confusing and tedious, overall it was still fun and worth reading. I enjoyed Heinlein’s explanation of religion, God and beliefs. A short excerpt: "For many centuries religion held sway as the explanation of the universe … the details … differed wildly but were essentially the same: Somewhere ... there was an old man in a nightshirt who knew everything and was all powerful…and could be bribed."

The Shop on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber

This was another book that came in the mail unordered. This is more the type of romance I can’t really handle. It just was too contrived. Yes we all have our life’s crisis and knitting actually is a very meditative activity (a friend of mine knits in meetings at work all the time), but all the situations were too contrived. Lydia opens a yarn shop after surviving two bouts with cancer, Jacqueline is blind to the merits of her new daughter-in-law, Carol is the perfect woman, but can’t have a baby, and Alix is a punk young woman who just incidentally comes up with a child for Carol. Everyone ends up in a good relationship or improves the one they had. Yeah, right….
(read late July)

Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Again, to understand the latest Harry Potter book, I felt I had to revisit the previous one. Umbridge is the most evil character Rowling has created. Every time Umbridge speaks or is around, I get a creepy feeling. She knows how to destroy students like no one else. I was a bit more tolerant of Harry’s anger this time around, because he is not only going through adolescence, he really does have a lot of things to deal with. His relationship with Cho is especially realistic - he really doesn’t know what to say to her and doesn’t understand what she wants. Surprisingly Hermoine is the understanding one - at least in this case. Her relationship with Ron is very bumpy. Again, I love all the details - the DA group and how they really learn to do spells which they actually get to use against adults in the final huge battle; Hagrid and his relation with the giants, his brother and Madame Maxime. I think I will end up listening to this again with my son soon, but there is so much here, that I don’t mind.
(listened to all 17 tapes twice! July & August)

Howard Hughes: The Secret Life by Charles Higham

Here’s a book I started, but never finished, but I’d still like to keep a record of it. After seeing the movie Aviator, I was intrigued by Howard Hughes, his role in the development of aviation and things like his relationship with Katharine Hepburn. I remember when I was a kid, hearing of Hughes as the reclusive richest man in the world. I got about half way through the book, but realize I don’t have time to finish it right now, and gave it back to the library.
(read half early in 2005)

Runaway Mistress by Robyn Carr

I don’t know why I got two romance books in the mail, but there they sat, tempting me. I am embarrassed to admit actually enjoyed this fluff book after it got out of the mode of rich mistress with designer clothes whose main goal in life is to look good for her guy. After the first chapter Jennifer ran away from that life style, shaved her head, wore baggy army pants and got a job in a small town diner. From here I liked the story. The small town characters were nicely done, but things fell together a little too patly for my tastes. The teenage girl she befriends has the same kind of childhood as she had, so Jennifer can help a lot. When the nasty rich ex-boyfriend comes looking for her, her new guy just happens to be a cop, so he can go chasing after him. So what is it about romance novels that get to some of us women? At least the modern ones have strong female characters, but things do work out better than they usually do in life. I guess we just need some of that fantasy life.
(finished July 24)

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowlins

Another wonderful Potter book. I read it quickly, because I really did not want to overhear or read about the ending somewhere. Though some pretty horrendous things occur, I felt this book was a bit more laid back, less constantly tense than the last one, which I appreciated. A lot of action was just daily life at Hogwarts. We got a lot more background information in this book, and the romances started heating up. But the cattiness and misunderstandings of young adulthood were all there, wonderfully depicted by Rowlins. They are all growing up and I was happy to see Harry had gotten less angry, which is another reason why the last book was harder to read. Snape remains a big mystery to me, though we learn a lot more about him and Voldemort and Dumbledore and the whole lot. I feel this was the lull before the final big storm, and at least we have a couple of years to wait until we see how Voldemort is finally defeated, or is he?
(finished reading July 21, will be listening to the tapes with son later this summer)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Notes on Jorn Barger and Blogging

I don’t believe it has taken me so long to put up a blog. I just came across an article in Wired about Jorn Barger, who I met in Chicago and spent some time with in the late 1980’s. He is a self-educated genius type who was working at Northwestern on Artificial Intelligence at the time. It turns out he is credited with coining the term “weblog,” after posting his own insights on the Web. His interests are pretty diverse including an obsession with James Joyce and singer Kate Bush. Here’s the article from Wired, a piece on Jorn in the Wikipedia (he was clean shaven when I knew him) and his famous Robot Wisdom Weblog, though I prefer the Map page, where I find most of the links still valid.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

The Book Without Words: A Fable of Medieval Magic by Avi

Picked up the latest by this award winning children’s / young adult author at ALA with signature. Somehow this did not grab me, though I liked the title. Maybe because it was that I’m gearing up for the latest Harry Potter and this story was too simplistic. A guy is into alchemy, looking for a way to live forever. He involves a talking crow and poor servant girl, who end up saving the day.
(finished reading July 18)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowlins

Reread (or listened to) to prepare for latest book. Still enjoyable.
(in July)

Blink : The Power of Thinking without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

This was a fascinating non-fiction book about our first impressions, the decisions we make, the thinking we do that isn't always explainable. This is basically a series of stories with research findings backing up certain phenomenon, but no real conclusion on what we should do or not do. Gladwell starts with a story about a statue from antiquity that the Getty Museum planned to purchase. After 18 months of research and expert analysis, they decided it is for real and purchased it. Other art specialists started coming to look at it and had immediate insights that it is a fake. Turns out they are right - but how?
One story is about couples and how one researcher can analyze 15 minutes of a conversation between them and predict with 95% accuracy if they will stay together.
I loved the marketing section - it started with a musician, that didn't fit into any category, and though music experts found him wonderful, but he had a hard time breaking into the business, because he didn't do well in surveys of sample listeners. The book told of the classic Pepsi - Coke story, where taste tests showed that people liked Pepsi better, so Coke changed it's formula making a huge mistake and having to bring back Coke Classic. This series of stories was about how people often can't tell you what they think, or it is out of context (sip test for the drinks instead of drinking a whole can at home), or just don't know how to react to something new (like the musician) and it is interpreted as dislike.
I also like the Pentagon war games story, where they spent enormous sums analyzing an enemy and building a virtual force to fight them, but the person who was asked to lead the virtual enemy defenses used his gut military instincts and did unpredictable things, that toppled the great virtual US army.
(finished listening July 17)

Pay the Piper: A Rock ‘N’ Roll Fairy Tale by Jane Yolen and Adam Stemple

I bought this at ALA to get Yolen’s signature, and she had a co-author who was a musician. The doubly signed book came with a CD with a few of the songs from the book, bookmarks and a reader’s guide. I found out that Adam Stemple is Jane Yolen’s son and this is their first novel collaboration.
Another quick read, but I really enjoyed this retelling of the Pied Piper story in modern times with explanations for some of the older versions of the tale. 14 year old Callie gets to interview the band the Brass Rat during their concert in her small town. But something doesn’t feel right and she can’t seem write the article for the school paper. When her little brother and the other kids in town disappear on Halloween… anyway, you get the gist.I am wondering: How DO authors collaborate. I can understand on a scholarly article, but on a novel? Did Adam write the song lyrics/poetry in the book? Did he provide the background on the rock band’s life while Jane provided the mythology? In either case, I’m glad I bought it. I’ll have to keep reading Yolen.

Notes on Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen has published over 250 books and I have read some for adults and children. At home I have one of her children’s books about four men who are good friends and who do chores for each other on their birthdays – maybe it was called Hands. I remember hearing Yolen speak at the one science fiction convention I attended some time in the late 1980’s. I didn’t realize she rewrites a lot of myths and tales – I believe I read some when I worked in the public library. I also note that earlier this year I read her Queen’s Own Fool. Looks like there are more in this series on the Stuarts.

The Wild Hunt by Jane Yolen

I just needed a small format book to read on the beach and I grabbed this, purchased quite a while ago. This children’s chapter book was a quick, but fascinating read. Yolen takes the age old myth of the fight between summer and winter, and gives it a unique framework. Or is it three frameworks?
(finished reading July 11)

Spendings (abr) by Mary Gordon

(finished listening July 6)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Black Rose by Nora Roberts

I immediately recognized this as the second of the Garden Trilogy at the store, so I grabbed it. I needed something light after all that heavy history stuff and this fit the bill. As I predicted after reading Blue Dahlia (in Jan), Roz, the matriarch of the Harper House and owner of a garden center falls in love with Mitch, the historian/genealogist. Stella & Logan are getting ready for their wedding and Haley and daughter Lily are cementing their relationship with Harper (Roz’s son), though that relationship will develop in the third book – Red Lily. Again, I liked the gardening details – I wished I had Roz’s flair, my garden is fun at times, but a chore at others, and I hate digging up new beds or fighting the tree roots that try to claim all my good soil in flower beds. Back to the story. I like an older couple falling in love after their children are grown. I still like the mystical “ghost” which wreaks a lot more havoc this time around. I am starting to tire of Roberts’ one dimensional, very evil bad guys – this time it is Roz’s ex-husband – a brief mistake of a marriage. But all in all I again enjoyed reading about strong women and their complex relationships with children, lovers, society and each other.
(finished reading July 6)

Great Improvisation: Franklin, France and the Birth of America (Abr) by Stacy Schiff

(finished listening July 1)

Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime by Miles Harvey

This is the book we are Reading Together at work, so I will leave my comments until we have had our discussion. I will just say this was a great choice for library employees.
(finished reading June 30)

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young

I had a hard time deciding whether to get this Caldecott Medal winner or Young’s latest book, but I know I want to be collecting Caldecott books, so bought this and had it signed at ALA. I believe I first read this in my Children’s Lit class at KVCC with Raylin. The illustrations are just exquisite – often from interesting angles, sometimes broken into panels. And the well known story has a different twist to it. I liked the cleverness of the children.
(finished reading June 27)

Song of Creation by Paul Goble

Another ALA signed purchase. I have loved Goble’s books since my bookstore days and enjoyed not only his illustrations, but also his retelling of Native American tales. Mr. Goble looked a bit weary, when he was signing books, so I didn’t bother him with chit chat. This book is beautiful as always, and he has found a way to illustrate many Western animals and their habitats. The text is less inspiring – a prayer from all the animals and their surroundings, so the text repeats: “O you ____ (sun, moon, stars, frost and cold, moose, geese, ...), bless you the Lord: praise him, and magnify him forever.” I guess I could think of this as one long meditation, but it doesn’t speak to me as his tales have in the past.
(finished reading June 27)

Toulouse-Lautrec: The Moulin Rouge and the City of Light by Robert Burleigh

One of the many books I picked up at ALA and had signed, this is a children’s book about the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. I like the way today’s children’s authors deal with non-fiction subjects, and though I know of Toulouse-Lautrec and know some of his work, I didn’t really know his story. Burleigh tells the story simply and colorfully with lots of photos and images from Lautrec’s art. He describes Paris in the late 1800’s especially the music halls and Moulin Rouge (the Red Mill) in particular. He talks about the advertising posters, an art form for which Lautrec was known and the people in Lautrec’s work. I liked the story of the painting At the Moulin Rouge, where someone cut a piece of the painting off at some point, not liking an eerie face on the side, but luckily they found the strip and sewed it back on. I admire the ability to condense a story in this way to basics while still being informative and engaging.
(finished reading June 27)

Cat Who Went Bananas by Lilian Jackson Braun

Light reading
(finished listening June)

Churchill, A Life. Part 1 by Martin Gilbert

Comments coming.
(finished listening June)

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Thieves of Ostia by Caroline Lawrence

I am again having a hard time finding the right kinds of young adult books for my 12 year old son. I want to try something different, plus we have listened to every book available by his favorite authors. There has to be enough of an interesting story, not too girly or romantic, and I’d like a new setting. This book is a bit simplistic, though there is some gruesome parts to it. This is about a girl living near Rome in 79 A.D. She is a ship captain’s daughter who tries to unravel a mystery with the help of her neighbor, a slave and an orphaned beggar. Again, my personal interest is in the historical setting – the houses, the living conditions, the daily routine (washing in the public baths), the scrolls (instead of books), the classes of people – slaves, freed slaves, born free, Jews and Christians in early Rome, etc. Not as well told as some I’ve read, but OK. I’ll have to listen to the second half again, when my son returns from Latvia.(finished listening to June 12)

Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik

This was one of those books I knew nothing about when I picked it up at Borders in Louisville, because it was on sale, but I had a hard time putting it down – kept reading it in the mornings and evenings, not just before going to bed. The thing that holds the women in the book together is a book club – they get together once a month to discuss a book - one the host of the month has suggested. The women are quite different in the beginning of the book – though they live in a good neighborhood of Minneapolis and have or have had husbands earning a decent salary. Faith came from a drunk mother and a father who left when she was born. Merit was the beautiful one that escaped from her family led by a strict minister and married Eric, a doctor who abused her. Audrey was the sexy one who had some wealth of her own. Slip was tiny in size, but very strong physically and mentally. She was the great liberal who fought for all sorts of causes. Kari was older and had lost her husband and had never been able to have children, but loved them. This book takes us through the lives of these women, their families and those around them from 1968 to 1998. They create a supportive family for each other through the book club, as they each go through various crises. I liked the way each time period was depicted – they all smoked and drank, even when pregnant, in the beginning. Their children were a big part of their lives and the novel. Many issues were raised, the anti-war movement, effects of Viet Nam on vets, homosexuality, biracialism, abuse, and much more that is dear to my heart. These were life stories, and not sappy romances (like Nora Roberts ends up pairing people too perfectly.) Some had great partners, some divorced, some stayed single and found happiness anyway. And of course, I loved the book theme. Though the books sometimes don’t even get mentioned in a chapter, each chapter begins with the host, name & author of the book, why it was chosen, or food served with it. I have pulled out the titles as a potential reading list for myself. And I know I will try reading Landvik’s other books. (finished reading this early June)

The books mentioned in Angry Housewives and my comments if I’ve read them:
Hotel by Arthur Hailey – maybe I’ve read this, I’ve forgotten
Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver – read long ago
Middlemarch by George Eliot
On the Road by Jack Kerouac – tried reading in the last few years, but couldn’t get into it
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis – I’ve read Lewis
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion – I’ve read Didion
The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather – I’ve read a few by Cather
Dr. Faustus by Thomas Mann (a banned book)
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test by Tom Wolfe – read in mid-late 1970’s
Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask by Dr. David Reuben – read in high school and hid under my mattress
Fear of Flying by Erica Jong – read
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
The Total Woman by Marabel Morgan – I think I tried to read this, I was definitely aware of it
Roots by Alex Haley – saw most of it on TV
The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank by Erma Bombeck – read this and a few of her other books
Tobacco Road by Erskine Caldwell – sounds so familiar
Terms of Endearment by Larry Mc Murtry – saw the movie
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – just had to answer a reference question about this the other day
My Home Is Far Away by Dawn Powell
In the Spirit of Crazy Horse by Peter Matthiessen
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – read, but can’t say I liked
Out on a Limb by Shirley MacLaine
The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler – read last year
West with the Night by Beryl Markham – read
The Fountain Overflows by Rebecca West
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
Handling Sin by Michael Malone (funny)
The Stand by Stephen King – I’ve read some of King and don’t want to read any more
My Antonia by Willa Cather – read
Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway – read
The Beginning and the End by Naguib Mahfouz
Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset – I have read something of Undset in Latvian
Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler
Eastward Ha! By S.J. Perelman (funny)
Love in the Ruins by Walker Percy
Others mentioned:
Martian Chronicles - read
Age of Innocence
The Drifters by Michner – read a few of his books

A Good Man is Hard to Find by Flannery O’Connor

The Full Cupboard of Life by Alexander McCall Smith

This is the fifth book of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. I have read two other books in the series, but entered them with no description. I again enjoyed this slow paced, but wonderful book about Botswana. As is quoted from the Seattle Times on the back of the book: “The author’s deceptively simple prose…is as supple as ever. His gift for effortless description of dusty, sun-bake Africa is undiminished.” The main characters:
Mma Precious Ramotswe – a wise middle aged woman, traditionally built, has her own detective agency. In this book she looks into a few beaus of a rich woman who hires her to check if these men are after her or her money. Most of the story is told from her point of view, with a beautiful, traditional view of the world, which has a lot to teach us today.
Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is engaged to Mma Ramotswe and has his own car repair shop. He is concerned about not having refused to jump out of a plane with a parachute as a fundraising event for an orphan farm he helps. He also notices a fine Rover owned by a butcher has been fixed with cheap replacement parts by another mechanic.
Mma Makutsi is Mms Ramotswe’s assistant and secretary, who graduated from secretarial school with a 97%. She has opened a typing school for men and has a bit of money left over, so in this book she moves to a new living space.
Mma Silvia Potokwane runs the orphan farm and manages to talk people into doing things they did not necessarily intend to do. There is also a great scene where she talks down a bully. (finished reading this 5/30/05)

Vacu ordenis un Livonija (The German Order and Livonia) by Kaspars Klavins

I feel very strange that this is the first Latvian book I have entered in this list. I’ve read things for Latvian school, and some poetry, which I will have to record later. This book was written by a friend, who recently stayed with me during the Medieval Conference at Western Michigan University. This is a thin scholarly volume, with many quotes in German and Latin, extensive notes and a bibliography. Though reading a scholarly work in Latvian was not easy, the topic was of interest to me. Kaspars has read all the ancient Chronicles about Latvia and the Baltics from the 13th and 14th centuries and has looked at the ideology and attitudes of the German Order in Livonia or what today is Latvia and Estonia. He talks of their motivation to be fighting, their level of religiousness, what pagan beliefs they stilled adhered to, and the burning of bodies (contrary to Christian custom of the times), which he explained in more detail at a session of the Medieval Conference. As you can see from my other reading choices, I love historical fiction, and this would be ideal background material for a novel or even series of novels. I am intrigued and would like to tackle reading those Chronicles (in English or Latvian translation, of course) at some point in time. If I was really ambitious, I’d write a young adult novel out of those stories. (completed reading 5/28/05)

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Illuminator by Brenda Rickman Vantrease

I picked up this book at TBW, because it was about an illuminator of medieval manuscripts. The librarian in me loves novels about books, libraries, librarians, and anything to do with books. Having those illuminated texts in our rare book collection helps. Again, there was an engaging story, lives brought together and torn apart, set in 14th century England. We see some historic figures: Bishop Henry Despenser, the “warring bishop,” John Wycliffe (the first to translate the Bible into English), Julian of Norwich (first woman to write in English – I picked up a book of her writings in the library), and John Ball. But again, though engrossed in the story, I liked the description of the historical setting: the nobility vs. clergy vs. peasants/slaves; the way a manor was run in those days; the role of women; the attitudes toward religion including Jews; the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381. Of course I was most intrigued with all that had to do with the manuscripts - translating of the Bible in English – doing in secretly, transcribing it, illustrating it. How Finn encouraged Julian of Norwich to write. Even details about making the ink and colors. This was also a story about an actual five-panel painting rediscovered after 400 years in the Norwich Cathedral. Finn, the illuminator is forced to paint this while in the captivity of Bishop Despenser. The central character in this book seemed to be Kathryn of Blackingham. She has been recently widowed and has two sons coming of age – Alfred takes after his father and goes on to serve the sheriff Sir Guy. Collin, the gentle blonde one plays the lute, comforts his mother, and falls in love with Rose, the illuminator’s daughter. Kathryn is a strong, fair woman, but these are difficult times, though she gets a brief respite in loving Finn.

This is a time when I went to get the physical book from the shelves of the library to check on a few things like the spelling of the town of what I heard as “Norridge.” Turned out to be Norwich, so I could find Julian’s writings. There was also an Author’s Note that was not in the tape version, but the tape had an interview with the author, and it turns out she is a retired school teacher, who loves to write, but this is her first novel since she never had time to complete a whole book. One of her interests is the early history of the church. (finished listening to this 5/26/05)

Maker’s Mark: My Autobiography by Bill Samuels

I picked up this coffee table book in Louisville after I had gone to the Maker’s Mark lounge. It was a different kind of bar – with comfy couches and stuffed chairs for seating, some behind light curtains. They are cigar friendly and the air was filled with the not unpleasant smell of cigar smoke. Maker’s Mark is a local bourbon and they have a whole list of bourbon’s you can try – you can even compare them by ordering “flights” that is smaller shots of three brands at a time. The book is colorful and fun about a family tradition of distilling bourbon and how they make and market the drink now. They have a distinct red wax hand dipped on the cap and neck of the bottle. As an old Jack Daniel’s drinker I found this fascinating and the bartender told me about differences between the different whiskeys. Bourbon is one of them and can only be made in Kentucky because of the water. Not a book I need to keep, so I’ll either have to find someone to gift it to or donate it to the library. (read on 5/15/05)

Master Butcher’s Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

I had been eyeing this book at Talking Book World for a while. Long ago I read her co-authored book Crown of Columbus and in the last few years I listened to Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, about a woman who takes on the role of a priest in an Indian community in Wisconsin or someplace in that part of the country.
This book is about Fidelis, a man who is trained as a master butcher by his father in Germany, but leaves for America sometime after WWI. He lands in Argus, ND, where he ends up starting his own butcher business, brings over his wife and sons, and starts a singing club. Singing clubs in Germany were organized by guilds or professions (strangely enough, historian Kaspars Klavins told me about these guild singing clubs when he came to the Medieval Conference, while I was still listening to the book), but in the US, men of various professions gathered to sing and share songs they knew.
The other main character in the book is Delphine, who comes back to her home town to take care of her alcoholic father, and she is accompanied by Cyprian, a juggler and balancer with whom she had an act together. Though they get along very well, he is gay, and she wants a partner in all aspects. (An interesting glimpse into what it meant to be gay at that time.) Delphine goes to work for Eva, Fidelis’ wife, in the butcher shop. She loves Eva, spends a lot of time with her, helps her with all the chores and the boys, and when Eva gets sick, takes over the household.Enough about the story – I just enjoyed the detailed description Erdrich gives of this time, about the way relationships worked, how the community worked. It was really poignant with the coming of WWII, and Germans in Germany versus Germans who had moved to the US. (finished listening to 5/12/05)

The Calhouns: Suzanna and Megan by Nora Roberts

Fluff reading, but I needed something light. This is the third and fourth book of a series about 3 sisters who lost their parents and were raised by Aunt Coco in a castle built by their great-grandfather. Their great-grandmother Bianca died by falling out of a window and there is a mystery intertwined in all of these books about her difficult life with her husband, her love of a painter that painted on the coast. (This is all on an island in Maine – see previous note on The Calhouns.) There is an emerald necklace involved, which is sought by a nasty thief with skills to disguise himself. The necklace gets found in the third book: Suzanna’s Surrender. The fourth book, Megan’s Mate is about Megan, the sister of Sloan, who also has had a son by rogue ex-husband of Suzanne. The couplings are way too predictable in this series – only one man appears in each woman’s life, they hate them, but of course fall in what appears to be soul-mate love each time, and soon after have babies. All live happily ever after in or around the big castle. But I still like Nora Roberts’ characters and her details. (finished reading 5/10/05)

Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks

This was a hard one to listen to. It is a fictional account of John Brown, as if narrated by one of his sons. I have heard his name in history accounts, have sung the song about him, but didn’t really know who he was. Turns out he was a religious white man who felt a strong compulsion to fight slavery by working on the Underground Railroad and often killing those who were slave owners or supported slavery. In 1859 he led an attack on Harper’s Ferry, VA to steal weapons for the slaves and their supporters to use in an uprising. Most of his men were quickly killed or captured. He was tried and hanged. By the end of the book I appreciated this insight on a piece of history, but it was hard to swallow, as the book was quite graphic in its violence. And I find I have a hard time with zealots, especially religious zealots who will break all sorts of laws and commandments to attain their goals. Even Frederick Douglas cautioned John Brown and did not support his plan for Harper’s Ferry. If I were to take this further, I would read some of the books on the black take on John Brown, as it seems that his actions did help nudge the country into the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. From the titles of books in the library, John Brown was a hero to the blacks. (finished listening to late April, May, 2005)

True Betrayals by Nora Roberts

Not my favorite book of hers, though it did grow on me. Setting – horse farms and horse racing with the Triple Crown at stake. Kelsey thought her mother died when she was little, but it turns out she had killed a man in self defense, and had gone to prison for 10 years. They reconnect on her mother’s horse farm. Her love interest is Gabe, who won his horse farm in a card game, and is trying to make an honest go at raising horses. This turns into a pretty convoluted murder mystery, but with Roberts’ eye for detail I learned about one more world I knew nothing about. (finished listening to in April, 2005)

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

A slow book with lots of characters I didn’t like, but maybe we are all flawed and Russo just showed us that. Small town life, many stuck and couldn’t get out.
(Finished listening to by April 1, 2005)

Just saw an interview with Helen Hunt on David Letterman – she is in a movie version of this book and plays the wife that has just lost a lot of weight and is discovering sex with the shallow health club owner, and is divorcing Miles the main character. (5/11/05)

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

A wonderful book about girl, Lily, who lost her mother at age 4 and is living with her mean father T. Ray and big black nanny Rosaleen in South Carolina in 1964. Lily has no friends and has a huge hole in her where her mother should be. So this book is about how she heals in the midst of a group of wonderful black women. It is a coming of age story, it has a couple of gentle love stories, it is powerful in its Civil Rights era setting, showing how blacks were proud to register to vote, which got the whites riled up and we see two nasty incidents between the races ending up with arrests. But mostly it is about the power of women to heal, to mother each other, to relate to the divine mother, Mary. The figure of the Black Mary was moving. And this wonderful story is set in a hot southern summer surrounded by bees. The author had researched beekeeping and had Lily land amongst 3 beekeeping “Calendar sisters” - August, May & June. August is the main mothering one and May in an interesting character deeply affected by the pain and sorrow of others. She had built a wailing wall, to which she would bring her pain. [Stop reading if you don’t want the ending spoiled.] To answer the questions at the end of the book, this is what I think will happen: Lily grows up to be a very strong woman, who finally sees the pain her father has suffered and she goes to see him, to tell him her life is in order, though he never appreciated it. She does become a beekeeper and takes over the bee farm, but she is also a writer – after she has gone to college. Rosaleen stays on the farm till they end of her days and is active in the community (after her charges are dropped), maybe opening a bakery or something. Lily and Zach get married and he is a lawyer in town, but he gets involved in major civil rights cases. I don’t know if they live in the pink house or build their own.
(read over spring break, completed April 6, 2005).

The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett

Oh how I love Ann Patchett. I might even write her a letter when I finish Taft. This was another wonderful sweet, but sad book. This is her first novel that she thought out while waitressing and then wrote it in those writers’ workshops, colonies that she went to. (looks like this will have to be completed at some other time)
(Read March 2005)

The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett

(read Feb 2005)

Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet

A quick listen kids book about two kids who get involved with a stolen Vermeer. The thief publicizes that the Vermeer has been stolen so that everyone would look at Vermeer’s work more closely and realize that some of the paintings attributed to him were probably done by others, imitating him. There are some good support characters and things – the interesting teacher that lets them explore different ideas pretty freely, the old gruff spinster, who becomes their friend, the pentanicles (sp?) that the boy is constantly playing with. It is a well constructed story with a lot of puzzle pieces coming together in the end. And I enjoy books about art. (listened Feb 2005)

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

The first of the series, we learn about Mma Precious Ramotswe, her childhood, her father, her unsuccessful marriage, and how she starts the detective agency.
(read Feb 2005)

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

The second or third of the wonderful series: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, about a lady detective in Botswana.
(listened Feb 2005)

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Gealy

After reading Truth and Beauty, I just had to read this. It is a powerful book, but interestingly enough I found it in the young adult biography section of our library. Though it is mostly about a girl, it is definitely not written for younger readers. Chapters like “The Tao of Laugh-In” wouldn’t make sense to kids. Her inner world was amazing, the strength she had to deal with the world with her deformed face is astounding. But she also had a desperate need to cling to friends, and we see how this evolves. (read Feb 2005)

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Lion Boy: The Chase by Zizou Corder

Ansis and I finished listening to the second of these Lionboy stories, where Charlie, a boy who can talk to cats, escapes with lions from a circus, ends up in Venice, takes them back to Africa, where he finally meets up with his parents, so we have a reprieve before the next set of misfortunes besets him. I found this delightful. (listened Jan-Feb 2005)

Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

I just finished listening to this amazing book. The author Ann tells her true story of becoming a writer along with best friend Lucy Grealy, also a writer. Lucy’s face was disfigured in childhood by a bout with cancer and much of the rest of her life is spent trying to fix her face and/or deal with it. It is an amazing tale of friendship. And though I have nothing like that, there have been moments I have felt as close to Sufi, Donna, Sniedze, and Inta. I am now reading Lucy’s Autobiography of a Face and expect to read all of Ann Patchett’s books. I realize I have already listened to her Bel Canto. (finished listening 2/17/05)

The Children’s Homer by Padraic Colum

After watching the movie Troy, I realized I had forgotten a lot of the story of the Illiad and the Oddysey. Colum does a nice job of retelling these stories in today’s language, so I could be reminded of all that happened. Now I want to see the movie again to see how closely it followed those original stories. I also plan on listening to a version of Homer’s Illiad. (I tried and couldn’t get through it.) If I understand correctly, there are various versions of the tales, as they were in the repertoire of numerous bards. I’m still trying to understand when and how they were written down.

Winner by David Baldacci

This mystery was recommended by Alison at Talking Book World (TBW) and it was good – a fairly unique plot of a poor Georgia girl who is chosen by a man to be part of his scheme to fix the lottery. She is desperate with a baby and a drug dealing boyfriend, so she takes him up on it, but leaves a grisley scene at her trailer – a dead boyfriend and another drug dealer, who attacked her. So once she wins the lottery, she has to leave the country and is told to never come back. After 10 years she comes back, but various people are on to her. Anyway… though I had to finish the book because it had me hooked, I can’t say that I really liked the constant feeling of unease while listening. It seemed that something nasty was going to happen at any given moment. I just kept reminding myself that the heroine is going to come through this OK. I liked Baldacci’s characterization of Lou Ann, her friend Charlie, and the bad guy Jackson. They were each outcasts in their own way. I wasn’t sure how they managed to live without friends as they did.

Virgin's Lover by Philippa Gregory (2004)

Listened to one more wonderful book about Queen Elizabeth I. This focused on her early years and her affair with Robert Dudley. I do regret that this was an abridged version, as much of the color of the times was deleted from the story, which made the previous book by Gregory so good.

The Calhouns: Catherine, Amanda and Lilah by Nora Roberts

Not the best of Nora Roberts, I just needed some light reading. This is a reprint of 3 Silhouette books from 1991, so they are written with the quick romance book formula. What I did like about the book, was that it was set in Bar Harbor, Maine – on the island where Acadia National Park is located and which we visited last summer. True, the place is really beautiful. Again, her heroines are strong women – the three sisters are a bit stereotypical as opposites – one is an auto mechanic, one a businesswoman, one a free spirited naturalist. What held my interest was the thread of mystery woven throughout – a long lost emerald necklace, that was hidden somewhere by an ancestor who committed suicide (or was killed in my opinion). We actually don’t get the mystery solved, and I realized that there is at least one more, if not two books in this series. I like the research they do in old family papers and libraries. Roberts’ usual mysticism comes in the form of a ghostly energy from the past and not overdone. What I did not like was the quick way all three sisters found the loves of their lives with one wedding and the other two planned. Their pattern of falling in love was so similar, so predictable, that it drove me nuts. I understand instant connection, chemistry, but love takes a while to realize, to work out differences in life styles, etc. They had three very successful men, one a Cornell professor, drop their lives and move to Maine to live in an old mansion with these ladies, all within a matter of a couple of months. I don’t think so. (Finished reading Jan. 26, 2005)

My Life by Bill Clinton

I wish this taped book had not been unabridged, as I would have really liked to hear all of it, but something was better than nothing. I loved Clinton as a president, with all his foibles, or even because of them, and I really enjoyed hearing him retell his life. His mother was really interesting, maybe I need to read her book. (Now I’m thinking, if Ansis becomes famous, will all of my life be unearthed?) I felt reaffirmed in my support of him – he was an intelligent, caring president, with a flair for politics and an understanding of the way the world works. I felt Clinton’s frustration and was appalled at the media coverage of his presidency, starting with the Republican inspired focus on gays in the military within the first week of office to take attention from his work on the economy. Almost everything he did was overshadowed by bogus accusations about Whitewater or whatever. And Kenneth Starr just seems outright evil. All I can say is I hope that we have more strong, moderate Democrats like Clinton out there (and I’m sure Hillary is one) that can keep the ultra conservative right at bay. I think I will read the whole thing when it comes out in paperback, because a brief review mentioned a lot of details I missed in the abridged version. (Finshed listening to Jan. 22, 2005)

Monday, June 13, 2005

Queen’s Own Fool: A Novel of Mary Queen of Scots by Jane Yolen & Robert Harris

To follow on the theme of fools (see Queen’s Fool above), I found this other book about a Queen’s fool, but this time it is in Italian girl Nicola, who is rescued from her uncle’s traveling troupe by Queen Mary of France. This time we get the story of Mary Queen of Scots. The book is meant for young adult readers, so the chapters are very short, and the intrigues a bit less complex, though there is still murder and hangings, etc., but it is toned down a bit. This time I was fascinated by the differences between France and Scotland, the French being so ”refined”, while the Scots are portrayed as being more crude. I’m amazed at all the languages people spoke in those times, but then again, people in Europe today speak various languages. Again, the fool is a plain folk person, who with her wit ingratiated herself into the heart and presence of the queen, thus being witness to many important events. All noble women do embroidery, even the queen. What a queer pastime. Plus they play cards and chess. In France chess is used as a method for teaching strategy. All in all a good book, but the Gregory book left me more satisfied. (Finished reading Jan. 14, 2005)

Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts

This is the first of a trilogy still in process and is based on Nora Roberts’ love for gardening. This will again be about three women and the way they find their loves. The focus of this book is on Stella, who lost her husband in a plane crash (bizarrely in September 2001, but doesn’t even mention 9/11) and is raising two little boys. She decides to leave her home in Michigan and move to Tennessee, where she gets a job at a garden shop run by Roz, a wealthy lady who has decided to turn her love of gardening into a business. Stella comes in and organizes things better, rearranges the store, and they have a record year. Logan is the landscaper, who doesn’t take well to being organized, but he somehow still falls in love with this women with red hair and two comic and fun loving boys. Opposites attract, etc. The third woman, Haley, a distant relative, shows up on their doorstep pregnant and wanting a job, though she originally worked in a bookstore. (Both of those two business are appealing to me, and I actually got to try out one of them.) Looks like her love will be Harper, Roz’s son, who lives in a cottage on the grounds and is their plant propagator. He’s there when Haley gives birth to Lily. Roz’s love may or may not be Mitch, a genealogy specialist she hires towards the end of the book to research not only her family tree, but specifically the ghost that has been haunting her house – protective of kids, but mad when Stella decides to marry Logan. The prologue tells us who she is. (Read Jan. 05)

Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts is my secret easy read. Her novels are romances, sometimes with mystery or thriller tossed in, often with a mystical component. She writes well, gives me an insight to numerous locations and professions, which she seems to research well. Her women are strong and independent. Occasionally she dwells too much on antiques and fashion for my taste, but the rest is OK. She has written so many books, that I better start keeping track, or I’ll forget what I’ve read.

Light on Snow by Anita Shreve

I think this is the second of Shreve’s books I’ve listened to. A 12 year-old girl and her father have moved to the country in New Hampshire from New York City after her mother and baby sister were killed in a car accident. They find a newborn baby in the woods shortly before Christmas and befriend the mother, who comes to thank them for saving the baby. A nice book, a bit slow paced, a good look at grief and how people deal with it, adolescence, nice depiction of NH winters. (listened Dec. 04)

The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory

One of my currently favorite genres is historical fiction and this is a prime example. Hannah is a 14 year-old Jewish girl with a gift of “sight” prized in 16th century England, so she is brought to the court as a fool in boys clothing by Robert Dudley, where she befriends both Queen Mary and Princess Elizabeth. I enjoy the personal connections, the romance, but am most gratified by the historical details. I especially enjoyed the description of the life of Jews – pretending to be Christians, but still being the shopkeepers, and in this case a book printer and seller. The religious intolerance, the struggle between Catholicism and Protestantism, the inquisition, imprisonments and executions were uncomfortable to read about, but important for me to understand. Having recently seen the Tower of London, I can better imagine what imprisonment there would be like. I was also fascinated by the power struggles for the throne of England – with Spain and France also in the mix, and Queen Elizabeth before she was queen. The importance of a male heir seems ridiculous to me now, but I guess back then… Plus Queen Mary was in her 40’s when she tried to deliver a live heir. If I was considered an old mother at 37, I could see that in those days she was ancient and had very little chances of delivering a healthy baby – plus she was so stressed out – with all the intrigues around her, and her absent husband. Ah well, some things never change. (Read Dec. 04)