Rainer Maria Rilke

"Live a while in these books, learn from them what seems to you worth learning, but above all love them. This love will be repaid you a thousand and a thousand times, and however your life may turn,-it will, I am certain of it, run through the fabric of your growth as one of the most important threads among all the threads of your experiences, disappointments, and joys."--Rainer Maia Rilke

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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Octo-Genarian Mystery

Invisible:  An Ivy Malone Mystery by Lorean McCourtney
Maybe Ivy isn't an octo-genarian but she's pretty darn old.  Her age certainly doesn't stop her from running around all night, mixing it up with the bad guys and sharing a trailer with someone other than her husband. 

This first-in-the-series novel features retired librarian Ivy Malone who is stunned when her next door neighbor and best friend, Thea, dies unexpectedly.  Ivy has a hard time adjusting to her loneliness and old age, something she'd never even noticed before.  That's when she decides to stop sitting on the sidelines and join in the chase for Thea's killer.

Ivy isn't a  detective in the true sense of the word.  She's just an LOL (Little Old Lay) who is nosier than she should be and gets carried away.  The story ends with a cliffhanger that made me want to just keep on reading.

This cozy Christian mystery had a friendly, conversational tone and was very easy to read.  While I am nowhere close to retirment age (sigh!), it was a story that still appealed to me because of the moxy of the main character, an endearing trait at any age. Reading about Ivy'e life is just as intersting as finding out about the mystery itself.  Coming to grips with old age, new romances and friendships, dealing with dreams deferred, meeting and failing new challenges--these are common experiences for men and women of any age or circumstance.  Ivy is one old chick I could definitely hang out with (you know, if she were real and all!).  I look forward to the next installment!

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Memorial to a Forgotten Time

Flesh and Blood So Cheap:  The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy by Alfred Marrin
The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York City occurred on March 25, 1911, and was the deadliest work disaster until the destruction of the Twin Towers in 2001.  The details about that day are stunning:  146 workers died, most young immigrant women; many leaped to their death from ten floors up rather than being burned alive; no one man or business was ever charged with wrongdoing concerning the fire--indeed, the owners collected heavily on the insurance; on the day of the funeral, nearly 400,000 watched the procession; the funeral procession lasted almost 6 hours.  And, as horrific as those images and words are, the living and working condition of the American worker at that time in history is even more so.

This is more than just a story of a workplace tragedy and the factory conditions that caused it.  This is a story of immigrant America and all those women whose hard work allows me the freedom I have today.  This is more than a good book to read--it is an important book to read and to recommend and to remember. The author did an incredible job of tying together a tapestry of important political and historical threads in order to make the story so much more relevant.  I've read several books and articles about this topic but none touched me so deeply as this one.

After reading about the social and living conditions of those immigrants, it seems so very spoiled to complain about Social Security, pension, work breaks, etc.  How soon, as a nation, we forget our history.  This book very clearly establishes what unions were created for--the protection of the workers and while I was not necessarily pro-union before reading this book, now I very much more understand the great need there has been for a unionized work force.  Before complaining one more word about your job, read this book. 

The title of the book comes from this quote by Jacob Riis, "That bread should be so dear, and flesh and blood so cheap." To think that these young women could be treated so heinously is almost beyond belief. And yet, it is our history. Thanks to the author for that reminder.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

An Alcott Classic

Hospital Sketches by Louisa May Alcott
(Classic Fiction)

The first chapter had me worried.  Here was a flighty, shallow young woman wallowing in self-pity because she is leaving home for the first time.  Certainly such a thing would be more dramatic in the mid-1860's, but I was squirming thinking that perhaps this was a character who would just annoy me with her feminine drama about leaving home and finding herself. 

My apologies, Ms. Alcott.  I should have known you wouldn't disappoint.

When Trib Periwinkle signs up to become a wartime nurse, she is really only looking for a diversion, a little adventure, maybe.  What she finds is life-changing event.  This book is divided up into four chapters:  Chapter 1 is about the leaving of family; Chapter 2 is about Trib's adventures and misadventures during the travel; Chapter 3 describes her first real nursing duties as Civil War soldiers are brought in; Chapter 4 is a maturing as the seasoned nurse begins to settle into her duties.

The story is told with equal amounts of horror and humor and innocence and experience.  The book was written as a series of sketches, or letters sent home when Alcott herself served as a nurse during the Civil War.  Tracing her growth from silly teenager to skilled caregiver reminded me of my own walk through various trials of life. 

Alcott's real experiences as war nurse shows very clearly and although the story is fictionalized, the horrors of war wounds and helping men accept their own deaths rings true.  The book is brief, but enjoyable (the wrong word, really considering the subject, but true nevertheless); and is a very good example of Alcott's writing style.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Man's Book

Survivors:  A Novel of the Coming Collapse by James Wesley, Rawls
(Manly Survival Novel)

The author is a famed survivalist blogger and his passion is quite evident in this book, a follow up to Patriots:  A Novel of Survival of the Coming Collapse.

After a financial, social and political collapse that changes the culture of America, a small group of survivors live off their wits in a new world with no rules. The characters:   Andy Laine, a soldier from Iraq who has to make his way home to the US after the military goes defunct; Shelia, whose husband is killed for his wedding band and who has to start a new business in a small Kentucky town with a young son and aging mother.

This is an extremely male book--I don't really know how else to put it.  It is heavy on weapons and military lingo and is extremely realistic.  While some might think another novel of a coming apocalypse is overdone, this one is written in a way that is not hyped up but explained in a way that makes the end of the American Reign very plausible. The author's style is very direct.  There is little emotion displayed, even in terse scenes.  The descriptions of terrain and weapons are the longest paragraphs in the book and I felt like maybe I should be taking notes, just in case.

I didn't enjoy the book at all.  It was very much  like a lesson on survival and I walked away feeling woefully unprepared and mildly disturbed.  This isn't an author I would choose again but if you're a guy into really guy things like.....guns and surviving and stuff, it might be for you.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine Treat

Puzzlebook:  14 Valentine Puzzle Quizzes by Peter Grabarchuk
(Kindle Puzzle Book)

This little book includes 14 word and visual puzzles for the Kindle, starting off fairly easy and getting harder as you go along.  Some was word puzzles; some are number puzzles; others, just visual.

At first, I skipped right through the first few and thought it wouldn't be a challenge, but the puzzles soon got harder and harder and I had to put the book down and think about them.  I even had to get old-fashioned paper and pen out and draw a few to see if I could figure them out.

I loaded it for a short airplane trip and I was able to block out everything around me and just lose myself in some fun.  Later, my husband told me I handled the turbulence extremely well.  What turbulence? 

Definitely worth the price for a couple hours of fun.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Not With a Bang, but a Whimper?

Resonance by A.J. Scudiere
(Adult Scientific Thriller)

With the Mayan apocalyptic dateline approaching, I expected so see many more books and movies about the end of the world, but they are only trickling out, it seems.  This is one on the market that is worth the read.

In this book, the shifting of the magnetic poles has changed life on Earth and leaves a bevy of main characters trying to figure out just what's going on.
  • Jordan and Jillian are new doctors at the CDCP investigating odd deaths
  • Becky is a grade students who finds an inordinate amount of 6-legged frogs on her family's land with some weird collective group behavior
  • David is doing research of pockets of magnetic switches of polarity secretly and hoping to make a new for himself that will eclipse his famous scientific father
Circumstances bring these four together as they struggle to make sense of the changing world in the face of mass human extinction.

What made the book so enjoyable was a dramatic plot change about 75% of the way through.  It had me scratching my head and pulling my hair at the same time.  While I always enjoy a writer's skill, the book was positively masterful.  The global opening narrowed to a razor sharpness at the end to the cares and concerns of just two people.

Horrific and harrowing and ultimately a great read.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

An Oldie But Goodie

King Solomon's Mines by Henry Rider Haggard
(Classic Fiction)

Ahhhh, finally!  A classic that deserves the moniker.  I have a new favorite classic author and a new pile of books just waiting to be devoured. Good day, indeed!

The plot:  Allan Quartermain, elephant hunter (really what better job is there?), chances to meet two men tying to trace the footsteps of a younger brother.  Quartermain knows the man and goes in search of the Lost Diamond Mines of King Solomon (really, what better quest is there?)  Naturally, on the way lie death and destruction; curses and blessings; cannibals and all the rest.  They just don't make 'em like this any more.

The review:  What an extraordinary adventure!  Being attacked by elephants!  Almost dying of thirst in the desert!  Execution by a witch doctor!  A war for African tribal leadership!  Starving to death!  Freezing in the mountains!  Dying of wounds!  Trapped in a cave!  What is not to love?  I inhaled this book.  Old-fashioned fun at a time when most books deal with adventures in outer space.  What a treat.  I immediately went out and bought every other book by this author I could find.  I literally could not put it down. 

To be politically correct (really?), the descriptions of the elephant slaughter are disturbing but I do understand that was a sign of those times.  (My only frownie in a sea of happy faces!)

Monday, February 6, 2012

A Christian Fiction Look at High School

The Silent by Rebecca Kenney
(Christian Young Adult Fiction)

Nikki is in high school but not a typical kid.  She is one of only three students in the school who are openly Christian.  The other students in school separate themselves from her and her friends.  Local polic ask Nikki to be on the look-out for anything suspicious at her high-school.  A series of threatening emails have been sent to teachers and some dead cats left on the school steps.

There are many tests in the book of Nikki's faith:  her parents' constant arguing over religion, the abandonment of her mother, peer pressure, a crush that doesn't reciprocate, friendship troubles.  This book clearly shows that just because you're a Christian doesn't mean your life is rosy and perfect.  The only difference is the way a Christian reacts to situaitons--Nikki prays a lot, reads the Bible, seeks the counsel of others before acting and uses her role as police spy to help out some fellow teens going through a crisis.

It was never very clear to me why Nikki was chosen for this huge responsibility by the police or even if such a thing is legal.  It seems to be so over the edge as to be unrealistic.  I also could not draw any connections to the Christian theme.  One of only 3?  In a small suburuban town?  Typically, everyone in small towns go to chuch--it is usually the blatantly faithless that others watch for.

Overall, not a very realistic look at a typical high school but the parts on school violence are well worth reading and noting.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Surreal Alien Fiction

Chasing the Moon by A. Lee Martinez
(Adult Fantasy)
Diana stumbles upon a perfect apartment......but, there's a catch.  Isn't there always.  She has to be caretaker of Von the Hungering, an ancient entity that want to eat everything in its path, including her.  That's pretty much the sanest and most normal part of this entire story so if that doesn't turn you off, read on!

This story takes quite a while to get started and seems to be mostly galactic rambling with a healthy, but dark, dose of humor thrown in.  Think of a cross between Christopher Moore and Douglas Adams.  It was a very strange read and somewhat confusing but I believe that is completely due to the author's style as opposed to any real shortcoming in skill.

I wasn't sure if I like it or not.  I'm not sure if the ending was satisfying or if there was an ending.  The salvation of a universe, and race of beings, should be but with this book, it was just really hard to tell.

If you enjoyed my rambling review, then this is a book for you.  If you are confused and disturbed by my seemingly endless ravings, skip it.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

I Wanted To Love It

Immortal by Gillian Shields
(Young Adult Paranormal Romance)

Young adult paranormal romance is my dirty little secret.  I feel like I shouldn't read it seeing as how I'm over 40 and not a creature of the night.  Why do I love it?  Who knows, but I do.  And I soooooooooooo wanted to love this.  It had all the earmarks of a I book I would love.....but I just didn't.

It is a story of a young girl named Evie who is sent on a scholarship to a boarding school, Wyldcliffe.  Her mother drowned when she was just a baby and her father is in the army, far away.  Typical tragic heroine.

On her first day, she has an encounter with a dark stranger.  He moves her in strange ways, both figuratively and literally.  When he shows up a few days later, she is soon swept up in a love affair she feel powerless to control and begins a secret relationship with him. He is very mysterious and has many rules she has to follow if she wants to continue their relationship.  She sees him only at night and he won't tell her about his past.  They can't tell anyone about their relationship and they can't leave Wyldcliffe.  Typical tragic love.

The school affects Evie is weird ways.She has a strong connection to her ancestors that own a nearby house and is seeing things and hearing voices.  Typical setting.

Is it too typical?

I don't know.  I just know I didn't love it.  I did enjoy some parts of it like the supernatural aspect but I never truly understood what the two lovers saw in one another and why they were so dedicated to their love.  Also, the ending was very unsatisfying, even for a book in a series.

Overall, disappointing and not the YA paranormal romance fix I wanted.