Friday, July 30, 2010

Old Book Sale Find is Enlightening

Last year I picked up My Wilderness: East to Katahdin by Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas (1898-1980). It's one of those books you can just dip into occasionally and enjoy in odd moments because each chapter is devoted to one of eleven wilderness areas in the U.S.

You may know that Douglas was an outdoorsman who loved to hike and fish and canoe, and he had friends who were wilderness guides. He knew plants and animals like a naturalist so when he takes the reader on a trip through an area like the White Mountains, for instance, he points out flowers, wildlife, geological features, dangers and outstandingly beautiful sites. His descriptive passages are written like a poet, yet sometimes he'll weave into it something appropriate from the law.

The book was published in 1961, at which time most people weren't thinking about saving the environment. Like a prophet, he was literally a voice in the wilderness warning about the threat to wilderness areas from roads, clear-cutting, and overuse. On page 56, Douglas quotes Lorus J. Milnes' The Balance of Nature(1961), "By obliterating other kinds of life, man may be destroying himself as well."

Above all else, Douglas loved to fish, especially for rainbow trout. Not the stocked trout available in most places today, but native fish. Everywhere he goes he fishes the streams and lakes, noting the water birds, surroundings, and joys of landing a big one. Some of the best passages are about the guides he has known and their well-honed skills in a boat or on a trail. He praises National Forest Service employees while condemning National Forest Service policies which at the time were allowing many roads to be built and, worst of all, clear-cutting of national forest.

I know this is an old book, but if you love nature or memoirs of people who are passionate about their topic, keep an eye out for it at book sales and used book shops.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Freedom of Religion: Dead or Alive?

Normally religion is the one subject I absolutely will not touch. After reading Leonard Pitt's excellent column this morning about the protests against building a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan, though, I really must weigh in on this topic.

I understand how emotional this is for anyone who had a family member or friend killed or injured 9/11, and for those who are now fighting lung diseases because they tried to save people that day. Thus I understand when they vow to fight this mosque as an insult to those they loved.

On the other hand, it wasn't Islam in general that caused the attacks on 9/11. Islam is a peaceful religion. The terrorists represented a fanatical offshoot of that religion; today's terrorists have the same twisted view of Islam. Blaming all Moslems is the same as blaming all Christians when a Christian person causes mass death. You can't blame all Americans, for instance, because an American citizen blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City, can you?

One of the original rights we have enjoyed in this country is freedom of religion. That doesn't just mean all forms of Christianity plus Judaism. It means all religions. Moslems live all across our great nation and contribute to our way of life. Many are native U.S. citizens who bear absolutely no ill will toward the rest of us. They are as American as you and me. Our law says they can worship where they please.

I'm sorry the idea of a mosque so close to Ground Zero is so offensive to many people, but as Leonard Pitts wrote for this morning's newspaper, you can't have it halfway. Either we have freedom of worship or we don't. Letting them have the mosque where they plan should illustrate to the world that we really believe in our Constitutional right to freedom of religion.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Review: 13 1/2 by Nevada Barr

When I noticed a Nevada Barr at the library earlier in the week, I automatically picked it up since I hadn't read it. I just looked at the title and I always expect it to be an Anna Pigeon book. Well, 13 1/2 is no Anna Pigeon. This is totally different and it blew me away.

If I had known this was a psychological thriller, I might not have read it and that would have been a shame because this is quite a book. I'm always a little put off by psycho killers - now there's a statement for you - and this killer is very spooky. The story begins with the killing of a family, all except two brothers. One nearly loses his leg, actually almost loses his life, and the other is tried and found guilty of the murders.

Meanwhile another story line has a girl trying to grow up in a trailer park down south with a drunk for a mother and a series of step-fathers, then boyfriends who aren't any better. She frequently has to sit outside and wait until the fights are over and both adults are passed out before she can go in. Since she's a lot smarter than her mom, she steals the car and heads for New Orleans.

You know of course that these two story lines will merge at some point, and when they do there will be fireworks. The way the story comes together is a wild ride and I was fooled for a long while. Then I figured things out and was scared out of my gourd. I've known Nevada Barr as a wonderful novelist whose plots are a lot of fun to figure out, but this story raises her even higher in my estimation.

I recommend this book if you aren't put off by some gory scenes and a psycho killer on the loose.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Review Book: The Cobra by Frederick Forsyth

I won this thriller from GoodReads, requesting it because I remember his earliest books, The Day of the Jackal and The Odessa File. Because those were such a long time ago, I approached The Cobra almost as a new Forsyth reader, although I did remember the early ones being exciting page-turners that kept me reading late into the night.

This is entirely different. One reason is the concept for the book. A retired CIA man whose nickname is Cobra accepts a request from the president (Obama since it takes place in 2011) to figure out a way to destroy the world's drug cartels. Impossible, you say? Not to the Cobra. He asks for and receives carte blanche to do whatever is necessary including money to accomplish this task.

He knows it will take a year of preparation, thus we shouldn't be surprised when we are halfway through the novel before anything exciting happens. Even then, despite the cartels and gangs being absolutely ruthless and loving to torture people to death, it isn't really a very scary book. In other words, you must enjoy the details involved in the planning and preparation.

There are twists, and I wasn't really certain what the end point of the process would be until near the end, and even then I was surprised as I reached the end. To me a thriller is like his first two books and I'm not entirely sure what to call The Cobra. However, it is a fascinating book if you are willing to keep track of all the wheels put into motion and all the people involved. To help, you'll find lists of characters and acronyms at the front, and you will need to refer to them occasionally unless you have a much better memory than mine.

I do recommend this book, particularly if you have thought how much better the world would be without these cartels and the vicious gangs who sell their product.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Summer Television

It seems like only last year that summer TV meant nothing but sports in this house. Reruns didn't interest us at all, and we hate so-called reality TV. We just rented movies occasionally and lived with it. Personally I would happily read the evenings away but my husband isn't a reader and he wants the TV on when he's in the house - regardless of the fact that he sleeps through most of the shows. :)

About the only program we watched last summer was "The Closer," in which Kyra Sedgwick's character, the police lieutenant, is a hoot. She dresses like a southern lady, but no one is better at closing cases. The cast of characters too is very funny, and the cases are sometimes interesting.

This summer we've found several good summer series to watch, including this week's premier of "Rizzoli and Isles," based on the Tess Gerritsen series of novels. I had taped the first one but we watched it last night and, like the books, it scared me half to death. It always bothers me when the bad guy is a psycho, but this one was really out there. He was not only nuts, he actually enjoyed killing, slowly. His favorite scenario was to rape a woman while her husband watched, then kill him, and take the wife's body somewhere that he hoped no one would find it so he could visit it. Yuck, right? Rarely am I on the edge of my seat watching a TV show, but this one had me practically falling off of my chair.

We're also enjoying "Memphis Beat" which is very funny, with stereotypical but fun nonetheless characters and good stories. Good music too.

And then there's the oddball news. Once you get through the terrible news about the wars and the oil spill, you hear that, for instance, Bristol and Levi are now engaged. Say what? There's always a bumbling burglar or two determined to show how stupid he is, or a streaker at some big event. I thought streaking went out decades ago but apparently not. I guess the news people realize that with the war news and the oil spill, we've had all the tragedy we can stand, so they try to lighten the mood. Well, it does make us laugh for a minute.

My major objection to summer TV is the same as the rest of the year. TV commercials are apparently all made now by Dumb and Dumber. Most of them are so stupid I can't bear to watch them, and I certainly can't tell you what product they're advertising most of the time. Hey ad agencies, you are defeating your purpose. Don't you realize that?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Love Ceiling by Jean Davies Okimoto

The Love Ceiling was a gift from a friend of my own age who knew how well I would relate to the main character of this novel. Actually I think most women of our generation would find Annie Duppstadt's story familiar. Our generation in particular was, I believe, torn more than others between the need for our own interests/career with our strong desire to have a home and family like our mothers had. For many of us our mothers just accepted their lot in life, but we weren't so willingly compliant. The generations following ours openly defy the convention of women being only the mother/nurturer/caregiver and that's a very good thing.

You see, Annie, a woman in her 60s, is the daughter of a famous artist, a man fawned over by the public. He also happens to have a huge ego, cheats on his wife, and generally treats her like a piece of furniture or a servant. Annie's mother has Japanese ancestry and she just accepts his ill treatment. He had crushed Annie's budding artistic talent and she is plagued with stomach problems every time she sees him. Her brother seems unaware of the situation.

Then there is Annie's husband, Jack, nearing retirement with no other interests and feeling like he is being pushed aside. And their daughter in her early 30s whose long term live-in romance with a young doctor is falling apart. He is cheating on her as well. Annie's only joy in her life comes from her son and daughter-in-law's child, Sam, whose love fills her heart, and from walking her dog Daisy. She also has a part-time job doing arts and crafts with people having emotional problems and she finds this work fulfilling and important but others call it her "little part-time job."

After her mother dies, Annie decides to honor a final promise to her mother by pursuing serious art studies. This sets off a string of events that will change her life and also the lives of her family members. I found her struggle through the transition engrossing as I have had similar experiences, and I admired her as she found the courage to be herself at long last. There are wonderful characters in the book, a multigenerational group, each with his or her own wisdom to impart and life passages to go through.

This is a book I will keep. I think I'll be going back to it often for my own dose of courage as I face passages in my own life. I highly recommend this book. It's probably most pertinent to women 50 and over but I think everyone can relate to someone in the book.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Star Gazing by Linda Gillard

I won this lovely little book from Margot at Joyfully Retired. Her review made it sound like a book I would like and, oh boy, was she right. I'm of Scottish descent and the book is set in Scotland, partly in Edinburgh and partly on the Isle of Skye where Gillard lives. That alone makes it irresistible to me.

There isn't much description of Edinburgh, but that city isn't the point really. Gillard's hero makes blind Marianne, the protagonist of the story, "see" the Isle of Skye and because of that the reader sees it too. At one point he gives Marianne a wooden three-dimensional map of Skye that his grandfather made. It's a stroke of genius, but then that genius for describing things we take for granted but the blind can have no concept of is what draws her and the reader to him. Think of it for a minute. How do you describe stars, your reflection in a mirror, the height of a great tree, how leaves look blowing in the wind?

Marianne has been blind from birth. She does very well in life, finding ways to cope and things to enjoy. She tends to be crabby when her skills fail her. However, she lives with her older sister, a famous author of what Marianne considers silly novels. They argue all the time but her sister is a godsend and Marianne loves her. Another wonderful character is her sister's Goth assistant, a young man with make-up, piercings, and odd clothing who is actually a tender, loving fellow. When Marianne meets a man from Skye named Keir, they worry about her. For one thing they think she has imagined him for quite a while until they actually meet him.

Keir is one of those too-good-to-be-true guys. He's strong, manly, sexy, caring, poetic, charming, witty, everything you'd want in a man. It's his job that causes a problem. He is a geologist working for an oil company (I know, very timely now) and is gone for months at a time. Since Marianne is a widow who lost her husband when an oil rig exploded and miscarried their child just after, she's afraid to fall in love with Keir.

Yesterday was hot and humid here, but I hardly noticed since I spent the afternoon finishing Star Gazing. I loved all four of these characters and I loved Skye. It has been a long time since I was sad when I finished a book because I wanted it to go on and on forever.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Kisser by Stuart Woods

I've been pondering this review for a couple days now, worrying about the old notion of whether to review a book about which I have almost nothing nice to say. Is it a waste of my time and unfair to the author? Well, since this blog is my opinion and only my opinion, I'm going to go for it.

This is #17 in the Stone Barrington series. I stopped reading this series many years ago, long ago enough that I had forgotten why. When I found this book in the gift boxes I received some time ago, I decided to give it a chance before donating it to a book sale. And having read it, I remember why I had crossed Stuart Woods off of my list of authors to look for.

Stone Barrington is a superstud, superlawyer, superdetective, super-rich guy who picks up the phone when he wants something, says "jump," and the person on the other end says, "How high?" Everything is so easy for the characters in Kisser. For instance there's a young woman from South Carolina who has arrived in NYC with loads of money from a divorce settlement that of course she has invested wisely, and she is determined to be a Broadway star. Immediately she gets an audition for a hot producer's new show, he proprositions her, she turns him down, and at a dinner party that evening dumps his full dinner plate in his lap, thus getting her lots of media attention and she ends up starring in his new show. Whew! No struggle, no hard work - just handed to her on a silver platter.

There isn't much mystery here. One plot line ends anemically, the other is slightly more interesting but still thin. I don't know how rich NYC people live and would be interested in being transported to that world if only there were characters I could care about. All we learn here is about their sex lives. Stone has so many beautiful (of course), sexy (of course) women throwing themselves at him and into his bed that he can't even keep it down to one at a time. I'm not a prude, but this is ridiculous.

Stuart Woods is a very talented writer who has written 40+ books, so I can't figure out why he would waste his time and mine on this drivel. Why doesn't he write something worth reading? He certainly can't need money that badly. Sorry Mr. Woods, you're back on my black list unless someone can convince me that something you've written is a real novel.