Monday, March 18, 2019

not her daughter

This book infuriated and baffled me.  Every flaw, every bit of nastiness I have ever griped about in other book seep through the pages of Frey’s novel.  The unlikeable characters, the predictable plot, the inconsistencies in the antagonist’s actions, bad dialogue,  rush to an unacceptable ending – all there to make me mad and slam the book shut by page 25. By the way, page 25 is where I decided that Sarah was not going to change and I would just have to cope with that.. Even the photo of the smirking writer annoyed, staring out at me and daring me to criticize.  Well, criticize I will, but despite it all, I sort of liked the book. (Why aren't the title words capitalized? Just one of vexing decisions by the writer and her editor).

This is my book group’s pick for April and we will certainly have a lot to discuss, beginning with Sarah.  Basically, this is a kidnapping story.  Sarah sees a mother mistreating her daughter in an airport. Months later, the beautiful, successful, young business woman spots the child again chance.  She stalks the girl, and eventually lures her into the woods where she kidnaps her.  The amazingly articulate 5-year-old enjoys her new abducted life, and the pair spend their days avoiding capture For two nights, they even enjoy the company of a man they picked up in the park.  Good grief, this has HOT MESS written all over, doesn’t it? 

Sarah is flawed, but is she flawed because she just is, or is she flawed because the plot construction, story arc, and writing are flawed?  I doubt that we will go into that. I predict that Sarah will occupy most of our discussion, along with girl's bio mom who is into past life regression therapy.  I kept a list of all the impulsive and strange decisions made along the way.

I have been trying to figure out why, in the end, I liked this book (sort of).  The beginning and end chapters are miserable; the middle moves along quickly. Sarah’s irresponsibility, lack of foresight and conscience intrigued so I went along for the ride. I celebrated each time I got to declare “I told you so”.  The book swept me back to my days when I was drawn to the “Halloween” and Friday the 13th” movie genre.  Remember watching and – out loud – screaming at  Jamie Lee Curits “Don't open the door,” “Don’t answer the phone,” “He’s in the basement”. Admit it, you did that.  She never listened, but the warning and coaching provided a powerful adrenaline rush. not her daughter did the same.  I was forever alerting Sarah to the obvious opportunities she had to do the right thing, either anonymously, or perhaps transparently and accepting the  deserved consequences. 

Just like Jamie Le Curtis,she didn’t listen.  Funny thing to say about a kidnapping story, but it was fun.  And, here's an oddity.  Our book shares a cover design with Carol Weyer’s Birthday.   I just stated The Road to Wellville by T.C. Boyle.  Many pages so I many have to break up the comments into two posts.  We’ll see.

Thanks for stopping by and in the meantime don’t open the door.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Book Group Confessions

My friend, Faraway Steve, recently asked about our book group.  Are we still together?  What are we reading?  Good? Bad?  How are all the ladies?  This got me thinking about my book group history and my relationship with each, and how differently groups of people with the same purpose can function.  For a while, I belonged to three groups; I don’t recall ever reading that much in college except for the one dreadful summer session Shakespeare Tragedies class when we read a play a day.  That whirlwind tour of destruction and death still haunts me.

I have enjoyed all three groups and although the reading load challenged me, I never once faked my way through a discussion.  “Bolter” lived a short life.  We named this on-line group after the first book we read together.  In my mind, we would  use our
FaceBook page to post spontaneous comments (Wow, that sure was a steamy scene on the kitchen table),  insights (that Sartre, what a guy!), or questions (Is there a difference between the radium the girls used to paint watch dials and the radiation given to cancer patients?).  Of course, no one read my mind on how I saw all this and, generally, people read the book and posted a two or three sentence comment and moved on. It died a quick death after just two books, but Steve, same guy as above, and a person much more cerebral than I – still chat about what we’re reading, so I continue to count that as a book group.

One evening, I walked into my piano lesson where I found  my teacher, Connie, seated at the piano, clutching a book two fisted, shaking it at me.  “Have you read this book?  I mean, have you read this book?  I need to talk to someone about it.  Peter (her husband) says I need to be in a book group.”  And so, the Connie group was formed with the premise that each of us would invite one person – we would be small group of four.  Before long, that group of four more than doubled.  I left the group a few months back - the  the meeting schedule seldom worked out for me.  I keep in touch with group members and try to read what they are reading when possible.  Once you belong to a book group, sharing stories, insights and laughter, it's hard to close the door.  

That took me right back where I began, with a colorful group of women who have been meeting at the store once a month for about 18 years.  Of course we have had several defectors along the way.  We even had two men in the group who disappeared in short order.   Right now there are seven regulars – a perfect number.  We have quirks – one member reads the last chapter of each book first, another can find any way to slip politics into the discussion.  We have the monthly Royal Family updates and critiques of the latest awards shows.  We drink  wine and eat  chocolates and Cheetos.  This is a nice group.  This is where I am happy.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

What a striking cover.filled with peaceful images of life on the Sicilian coast.  First we notice the intense blue of the water, then the rider on the Vespa.  We get a glimpse of someone on a balcony above a simple, rustic church. Beautifully manicured hands hold what is most likely a glass of Prosecco . Finally, we see the rifle.  

The hand belongs to sixty-year-old  Auntie Poldi who recently moved from Germany to Sicily with the plan of drinking herself to death with an ocean view.  The plan goes south when her handyman, Valentino, turns up missing, and eventually is found dead on the beach by, you guessed it, Poldi.  Not one to be left out out of the excitement, Poldi abandons her plan to die, and throws herself full force, caftan and all, into the investigation. Warnings by the police to stay out of their business  mean nothing to her; in fact, she manages to have several romantic interludes with the chief of police.

Poldi, based on the writer's real life aunt, mimics many likeable, stock characters.  She's Auntie Mame - boho, extreme, flirtatious and overbearing. She's Father Brown, always turning up just minutes ahead of the official investigators, picking up pieces of evidence which she hides in her purse or somewhere in her billowing attire.  Murder She Wrote and all the Miss Marple novels come to mind also. Throw in some Lucy Ricardo for laughs. That's not a bad thing.  This is just a modern spin on that old favorite theme of the butt-in-ski amateur sleuth who may or may not manage to solve the crime.

The story's framework slows the novel down, in my opinion.  Poldi tells her story to her wanna be novelist nephew who then relays the tale to us setting up two questionable, if not totally unreliable, narrators. However, the book entertains, especially when all of Poldi's Italian sisters-in-law gather for stakeouts, or to hear the lurid details of her nights of passion.

We learn about Sicilian culture and history. Amid the clever references to Sophocles and Aristophanes, Giordano alludes to the mythology surrounding the mafia.

Here's something I  found surprising....

" drinking in Italy is nothing like the activity portrayed in television commercials.  It has nothing to do with coffee as a beverage, only with sugar.  Coffee is merely a hot, aromatic, caffeinated liquid designed to dissolve sugar, so you don't need much of it.  It can be small as long as it's strong...There's nothing more bizarre to a Sicilian  than drinking an espresso without sugar."

Well, I'll have to give that a try.  This book is the first in a series by Mario Giordano, translated from German by John Brownjohn.


Alice Shipley lies.  Lucy Mason lies.  John, Alice's husband lies.  That'a what we know right from the get go of this fast moving novel that would surely have piqued Alfred Hitchcock's interest.  In short order, we know that Lucy is the antagonist, so unlike Gone Girl, which Tangerine has been compared to, we don't have to muddle over who did it, who's doing it, or who will do it next.  What we need to know is why John married the mousy (but rich) Alice and, in short order, insisted they move to Morocco.  We need to know why Lucy, Alice's dangerously obsessive college roommate, shows up in Morocco uninvited and unannounced. And then there's Youssef, a native Tangerine, known for making a fine living duping and blackmailing unsuspecting tourists and expats.  The quartet orchestrates a plot filled with subtle movements leading to...well, read the book and you decided if the resolution is just.

Set against the sweltering Moroccan sun, the characters sizzle and and the plot burns.  This is a moody novel.  Christine Mangan not only showed me Tangier, she took me there, to the markets, to the cafes and to the dirty bars and opium dens.  Some readers might find her exquisite prose mismatched for the evil doings that take place in this exotic and mysterious setting.  However, when the plot reaches its boiling point, the style changes becoming faster, pulsating and twisting.  The inconsistency bothered me at first, but it served to quickly unravel the darkness that had been long hidden, as well as preparing us for the complex contorting yet to come. The final chapters revert back to the pensive style with which the book opened.

You may feel echoes of Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl) in the plot, but this book is far more sophisticated - more grown up.  Read it in the winter and let the Tangerine sun warm you.  Read it in the summer on your deck, and let the heat carry you to Tangier.  Just read it.  If nothing else, it will make you grateful for the folks you surround yourself with, and if you think your life is a little too boring, you might decide that quiet is a good thing.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, February 18, 2019

We Don't Eat Our Classmates

On her first day of school, Penelope Rex eats her classmates ...because they taste good.  Despite her teacher's gentle requests that she not do so, Penelope continues to snack on students.  Things change when Penelope meets her nemesis, Walter, an angry goldfish with a taste for T-Rex flesh.  

This may all sound rather nasty for a picture book, but really, Ryan Higgins is a master at serving up humor, both in his text and in his illustrations.  I am hoping that we will see more of Penelope and her socially awkward ways in sequels to this book.  

Higgins also authored another of my favorite, new-ish children's series, Mother Bruce.  Socially conscious Bruce shops locally, buys organic food, and lives an uncluttered life.  His life changes when the goose eggs he's boiling hatch, and the tiny gosling imprint on him.  Bruce does not want to be a mother, and he does his best to gently redirect the babies.  Doesn't work.  In book two of the series, Hotel Bruce,  the now grown geese invite their forest friends to move in and share in Bruce's hospitality. That book is followed by Bruce's Big Move. You can deduce the theme from the title, correct?

Long before we chuckled about Bruce, we discovered Dodsworth.  Jenny (who you may frequently see behind the LaDeDa counter) and I dissect and debate whether Dodsworth is a mouse, a mole or a whatever. Tim Egan wrote the Dodsworth series with beginning readers in mind but there are plenty of laughs for adults as well.

 Our protagonist loves to travel. He also has a stalker - a passive aggressive stalker.
Dodworth's friend, Hodges, owns a diner. Hodges also owns a duck, and everyone knows that Hodges' duck is crazy. The sneaky little guy eavesdrops and learns that Dodsworth is leaving on vacation, and stows away in his luggage. Chaos ensues as the Duck turns up in all sorts of unexpected places. Sensing Dodsworth's frustration, the duck attempts to remove himself from the adventure, creating a new set of problems for poor Dodsworth.  So much action packed into one little story!

My learning to read books consisted of the gentle Little Bear stories along with Frog and Toad.  Soon, I graduated to Madeline, Flicka, Ricka and Dicka (and their male counterparts Snipp, Snapp and Snurr).  Yes, there were "girl books" and "boy books" back in the day.  Although I loved those books, and carry them in mys store, it's fun to see this influx of silly, playful let-kids-be-kids sort of attitude filling pages.  Try reading one soon.  Better yet, find a new reader who will read the book to you.  

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Radium Girls

When the Curies discovered radium the world lit up with excitement.  The  endless possibility buzz included cures for numerous diseases, make-up enhancers, and energy boosting drinks.  However, the truth about radium came to light slowly, as one by one, young women working with radium became ill with undefined symptoms.  Radium Girls is their story, and much like Killers of the Flower Moon, it unmasks a seldom discussed period in America's history.

Dial painting  factories began springing up in the 1920's when the government contracted companies to paint glow in the dark clock dials.  The painters were mostly women, including girls as young as eleven.  The factories were happy places where the women made friends, and earned money for their families while men were at war. These women proudly did their part  for our country.  With the encouragement of supervisors, painters slid  their radium dusted brushes between their lips, bringing the brush to a  point, enabling them to paint the fine lines required.  Everyone on the high end of the pay scale knew of this practice, and they ignored their ethical responsibility to warn their employees of potential dangers. 

Gradually, symptoms began.  Teeth fell out. Jaws disintegrated.  Bone structure weakened.  Internal organs failed. When a dentist connected the dots and  questioned commonalities in several patients, the symptoms led  to workplace dangers and eventually to  radium.  As the suspected link grew stronger, cover-ups began.  
Because of the exhausting details, I had to read this book in spurts.  First and foremost, it is frightening. I wonder what is being done right now for the love of money that could be dangerous to us.  What is being overlooked that could be killing us?  How diligent can we be as consumers before the diligence become paranoia?  

This book is well researched and heavily documented.  Don't let that scare you. It reads smoothly... you should read this book.  Is there nothing hopeful in this story?  Certainly.  The affected women stood together in courage and with strength.  Their solidarity brought about changes to the workplace, changes that are now in place to protect workers and allow them to have a voice in working conditions.  Trite as it may sound, their example should encourage us all to live with our eyes open and, when  necessary,  rise above and have the cajones to fight. 

Thanks for stopping by. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Mary Poppins and Death of a Liar

Light reading was on the agenda last week beginning with Mary Poppins.  No, I never read it but the buzz about the new movie piqued my interest. The Disney version was the first movie I ever saw that combinesd animation with live action.  I still wonder how those penguins learned to step in time with chimney sweep, Bert. I did my best not to compare the book and the movie; instead, I decided to simply enjoy this old-fashioned story of the whimsical, quirky, and crisply demanding nanny.  

Mary barks orders like a drill sergeant and the Banks children jump to her call, except on "bad Tuesday" when Michael exercises his right to be surly.  The enigmatic Mary simply appears on the Banks doorstep after the naughty Banks children have driven off their previous nanny.  With little regard to the wishes (or approval) of Mr. and Mrs. Bank, Mary whisks the kids off on adventures that exist only in dreams.  They go on adventures - or do they?  Here is where some people get all philosophical about this book, diagnosing what slipping into Bert's chalk drawings mean, analyzing what's in the magical medicine Mary gives the kids upon meeting them, and what on earth could that levitating tea party possibly mean? To me. it all added up to tons of silly fun.  Pleasant surprises leap from each page, and yes, the movie did come to mind, especially when it was time to sing a song - which I did - with reckless abandon.  Tell me, did Disney give you the impression that Bert and Mary were in love?  I never picked up on that, but author P.L. Travis weaves a gently subtle loves story between the imaginative romps.  I am happy there are several sequels.

Since I didn't have a Mary Poppins sequel handy, I picked up M.C. Beaton's Death of a Liar. Beaton also wrote the Agatha Raisin mysteries, but I have to admit I have a big book character  crush on Hamish Macbeth, the lead detective in Beaton's 30+ books in which he is featured.  Hamish, a bit of a Casanova, finds himself distracted by nearly every woman he encounters during an investigation.  His actions are never rude, and he is mostly a failure when it comes to love.  I'm still in the opening chapters of Death of a Liar, but basically, Hamish neglects to answer a call from a woman who everyone in the Scottish highlands village identifies as an adroit fibber.  Only problem is, this time her calls for help are real, and when Hamish decides to do his professional duty and call on her, he finds her dead.  This comes on the heels of a dead body in a garden, and another in the trunk of a car.
Oh sure , this isn't heady stuff, but it's fun and it's a nice winter distraction.  I think I'll do a deep dive into the Hamish Macbeth series.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, January 21, 2019

The Egg and I

My friend Steve recently asked what me reading theme is for 2019.  I had almost forgotten to do that until he jogged my memory.  One year I decided to read as many mystery types as possible - cozies, locked door, police procedurals - but all those bad people and dastardly deeds haunted my dreams.  I moved on.  Then there was the year I planed to read a Dickens novel or a Shakespeare play each month. Again I moved on.  My year of young adult novels went OK, and this year I have decided to do some retro reading.  I'll start with  today's book and eventually plan to revisit Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, and Rebecca.  Gone with the Wind will be reserved for that long, cold arctic blast we usually get in February.  Staying home with a warm blanket, hot chocolate and a book.  So nice. 

You might know Betty MacDonald for her Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books for young readers.  Now, after reading The Egg and I,  I suspect that MacDonald fashioned the frazzled Mrs. P. after herself. I also discovered that this book introduced Ma and Pa Kettle to the world.  After the book became a movie, Ma and Pa became big stars. You can find a couple fun Kettle clips on YouTube.

When Betty MacDonald married a marine and moved to a small chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, she was largely unprepared for the rigors of life in the wild.With no running water, no electricity, a house in need of constant repair, and endless days of hourly tending to needy chickens. The closest neighbors are the Kettles, an earthy pair with 15 children.  Pa tracks mud (and manure) through the house several times a day, and keeps his baby chicks warming behind their wood stove in the kitchen.  Ma can frequently be found chatting with an itinerant salesperson while occupying the doorless outhouse.  

This book is witty and well written.  However. MacDonald does make crude remarks about country folk lacking in culture and intelligence.  Native Americans don't come off looking good in her memoir either, but, it is her memory and I will not fault her for that.  It not lessen the appeal of the book for me.  In fact, the levity was a welcome relief after reading The Radium Girls - more about that later - and it just might be my selection when it's my turn to pick a book for our book group.  

Thanks for stopping by.  

Monday, January 14, 2019

The Other Einstein

Albert Einstein's complex contributions to science always baffled me, yet I respect that his work was pivotal in laying the foundation for many scientists who followed.  This book adds another dimension to Einstein's discoveries, and along with that dimension comes many questions.  

Mitza Maric tells her own story - a brilliant girl living in the 1800's expectations that women are meant to cook, clean, bear children, and generally make a life for their husbands. Complicating matters is Mitza's slight limp, a defect that causes her parents to believe she will never marry.  Her father encourages her love of science, and eventually Mitza is admitted to the Polytechic Institute where the all male student body is dubious of her, at best.  Among the students she meets there is Albert Einstein.  He courts her and eventually they marry.  

From there, Benedict weaves a story of a Mitza as a major contributor to Einstein's work; however, history does not bear that out. Most experts deem her assertion to be "speculation".  

I enjoyed this book but wish I had done some background digging before reading.  For me, an author writing historical fiction with a real person as the central character,should be as accurate as possible in the portrayal of the individual and of significant life events.  This differs from an author who puts a fictional character in an historical setting.  Yet both are fiction and both require suspension of disbelief for the book to speak to a reader.

The story of Albert and Mitza engaged me That has not changed, but now that I know about the unsubstantiated claims made by Benedict, I view it differently.  As fiction - thumbs up.  As historical fiction - I'm still debating.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Wonderful World of Evergleam

I haven't posted for quite a while (long story, perhaps for another time) so I hope you're all still out there reading.  For my part, I will say it's good to be back.

Several years back, celebrated local art photographers, Julie Lindemann and Johnie Shimon, published Season's Gleamings, known locally as "the little pink book".  Their fascination with the Evergleam trees culminated with a stunning collection of tree portraits.

Now, Theron Georges, a Texas pilot, has given us a compliment to that book.  The Wonderful World of Evergleam features full color photos, along with a myriad of well researched information on everything from production specs to advertising.  He even includes tips on how to spot a phony evergleam.

Did you know....

Instructions for Assembly of Stainless Aluminum Christmas Tress cautions: DO NOT DECORATE THE TREE WITH 

The branches should always be handled by the stem end only and the tree should be stored "meticulously"

The trees were manufactured from 1959-1971 - 12 years

The holiday favorite "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is blamed by some for the demise of the aluminum tree

Trees had individual styles and names.  For example "Blue Frost" bears a resemblance to the ermine spot pattern seen in age-old royalty portraiture

And...did you know there was an unofficial song written by several of the line-workers.  You can sing along to the tune of "Glow Little Glow Worm".

This book is packed with facts, photos and memories.  So, how does a guy from Texas come to write about something so unique to Manitowoc?  You'll have to read the book to find out.

Shameless plug...these will go fast so message me on FaceBook or call to reserve a copy (682.7040).  Only $29.95 for this beautiful,keepsake book, in a protective slipcover.