Saturday, December 31, 2011

Unraveling Anne by Laurel Saville

My last review of 2011 is not one of my best books of the year. This is a very sad book about a tragic woman and her daughter who has tried valiantly to come to terms with the consequences of being Anne Ford's daughter. In the 1950s Anne Ford was beautiful, a talented fashion designer, and an artist living the Hollywood life. She gave birth to three children by two men and proceeded to neglect them for the rest of her life.

Actually Laurel Saville, the daughter, would have been better off if her mother had totally ignored her. In fact, Anne alternately criticized Laurel and abused her in fits of jealousy. Mom wanted a beautiful daughter who would fulfill her dreams, but beginning with puberty Laurel was the object of attention from the men Anne brought home and that infuriated her mother.

Anne Ford was the product of very strict upbringing. She was a beauty queen but her parents were never happy with her. She just couldn't live up to their expectations. The rest of her sad life she was free spirited, a hippy in the 60s, an artist, a drunk, and promiscuous. She thought she loved her children but was incapable of being any kind of a mother so the kids raised themselves.

Laurel lived with her father in New Jersey for some time and learned what a family was, but always suffered from want of love from her mother.

After learning of her mother's death, murder actually, Laurel tried to see another side of her life. Surely there was good in her. Her mother's friend gave her some perspective, and learning about her grandparents' story helped as well. Still, as an adult it's easy to see that Laurel will never truly know her own mother.

A very tragic story that ultimately goes nowhere. I admire the attempt, but Laurel Saville will have to live with the knowledge that it is simply a tragedy.

I received this book from Amazon Vine; it is available from

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Sampling of Excellent Books from 2011

I'm unable to select the ten best or even the twenty best books read this year partly because my reading is so eclectic, so I'm just going to point out some of the best.

One of my favorite authors is Linda Gillard and I read two of her books this year, Emotional Geology and House of Silence, both of which were among my most enjoyable reads. I also loved reading books by Dorte Jakobsen this year.

I loved the characters and the plot of The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson. Couldn't decide exactly how the victim died, but had a lovely time trying.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield drew me in and I still remember vividly the characters, particularly Swan Lake, the best child character in years.

Settings drew me in in such books as Tom MacDonald's The Charlestown Connection (Boston), J. Sydney Jones' The Silence (Vienna 1900), and The Sleepwalkers by Paul Grossman (Berlin during Nazi takeover).

As I look at my list, I realize I didn't write down some of the books so maybe I got closer to 100 than I thought. My list says I read 71 and I'll have 72 finished by tomorrow night for sure. However, I don't see The Help, a great book.

That reminds me that I discovered many authors new to me this year. I read a mystery by Perri O'Shaughnessy which makes me very glad that a friend gave me several of their books. I also discovered C. J. Box (Cold Wind), Reginald Hill (wonderful The Woodcutter), Kathleen O'Neal Gear and W. Michael Gear (Bone Walker), Jacqueline Winspear, Shamini Flint, Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos, and B. Kent Anderson (Cold Glory). I'll be following these authors in 2012.

Finally, I reread Jane Eyre with a new appreciation thanks to my more, er, mature mind. I have plans to read many more classics in the future. Perhaps Wuthering Heights next.

I may not have read as many books as others but I definitely enjoyed my reading more this year, and I think I have blogging to thank for that. I'm looking forward to my reading and blogging in 2012.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dead Air, Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid

I know I've been absent for a few days, but Dave has been ill and I've been staying close by him. While doing that, I read a book I downloaded free to my Kindle from Oceanview Publishers called Dead Air.

I had no idea what to expect from this book since I didn't know the authors, the series, or anything about it. However, I'm glad I tried it because I like the gutsy, caring heroine and the writing style of the authors. It served to keep my mind from wandering to my worries, which is a great recommendation under the circumstances.

The heroine, Sammy (Samantha) Greene, is a student at a private college in New England who is a reporter for the school radio station. Her boyfriend is a med student who frequently gets very put out that she gets so wrapped up in her stories that she forgets to meet him or call him. He doesn't understand that in this book at least, she is researching a story with deadly consequences.

The plot involves a research institute at the college, a new vaccine for AIDS, professors vying for tenure, and murder among other issues. The story is very well told and only difficult to figure out because of the motives of the people involved. It's easy to follow, not so easy to see how it will end, and bad for the fingernails because Sammy is in danger.

I don't dare tell you any more except that the characters are well-drawn and the plot is a dandy. I do recommend this mystery novel highly and I'm going to look for more books in this series.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl Written by Herself

This book is a free book available for Kindle and as there are so few memoirs of slaves written by themselves, I couldn't resist. You most likely know it was illegal to teach slaves to read and write and those who did learn usually kept that fact secret. This slave, however, as a house slave had access to reading materials and read especially newspapers and the Bible all her life to give pertinent news to other slaves.

Her name was Linda. She was owned by the very young daughter of a doctor, but the doctor treated her as his own. She resisted his attempts to seduce her and managed to evade his direct orders to make her body available to him at will. She was quite valuable since she had light skin (the daughter of mullatoes) so he didn't dare lessen her value in any way.

Eventually she was seduced by a white man who she trusted; he had convinced her he would buy her and set her free. She had two children by him which of course infuriated Dr. Flint, her owner's father. When the children are still quite young, she finds herself in such danger that she must leave her children with her aged grandmother in order to escape. She spends many years hidden in an attic of a shed where she is unable to stand up before she is able to escape to the North.

Linda's story is one of courage and heartbreak, a story of almost unendurable physical and mental abuse and hardship, but throughout a story of a woman's pride despite being a slave and her devotion to her family, particularly her children. It is also the story of the courage of people willing to help her and her children. I found it as page-turning as a mystery novel and even more frightening since it was a true story.

I recommend this free book to Kindle owners.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Movie Night: "Warm Springs"

Now that TV rerun season is beginning and will go through the holiday season, we'll have more time for Netflix movies. We do have lots of our regular shows recorded to catch up on too, but we finally watched a movie.

"Warm Springs" may sound familiar to you as it is where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. You may remember his mistress was there with him rather than his wife. Eleanor was probably home in the cottage she had built at the family estate in New York. She was still married to FDR but no longer bothered to keep up the fantasy that they were actually happy together.

When FDR was stricken with polio during a family vacation on the island of Campbello off the northern coast of Maine, he was convinced his budding political career was finished. He was devastated and depressed. He went south and hired a man to care for him; he was paralyzed from the waist down permanently. At first he refused to believe it was permanent and in a determination to walk again, he went to a place in Georgia called Warm Springs. He had seen an article about a boy who, because of the warm mineral water in the pool there, had begun to walk again.

Warm Springs turns out to be a wreck of a place but as FDR swims daily of course his legs regain some strength. There are many ups and downs but finally the only actor I recognized in this movie Kathy Bates, as a physical therapist, comes to Warm Springs, FDR buys the place, and together they turn it into a rehabilitation hospital for people with polio. I was surprised to learn that it is still in operation today.

Kenneth Branagh was good playing FDR who was larger than life in his lifetime and has become legend since. Eleanor is portrayed by Cynthia Nixon with that famous overbite and strange voice, but wonderful strength and intellectual brilliance. Again, this is a difficult role but was well done.

The movie is sentimental and leaves one with the wrong impression about the future life of this couple, but it's warm and funny as well. I thought it a good movie for this season.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmas in Knavesborough by Dorte Hummelshoj Jakobsen

This delightful little ebook available from Smashwords among other places is my friend Dorte's latest book about the village of Knavesborough.

There are four short stories here, featuring characters I loved from her earlier work. Constable Archibald Penrose is engaged to Rhapsody Gershwin, the librarian. Her father, the vicar, is especially beloved by this reader, but I also enjoy the names of other characters. Rhapsody's sisters, for example, are Psalmonella and Harmonia. The vicar is proud that the youngest child is a son who he was allowed to name; hence the boy is called John. The ladies of the town have names that make me smile as well.

In these stories which are set around the time of Christmas, you won't find the usual miracle or feel-good, what I like to call schmaltzy, plots. No, this being Knavesborough, there is murder afoot.

Dorte has a way with short stories that end with the reader saying with a grin, "Oh, so that's what was going on. That's very clever." I hope you will buy this Christmas selection. It costs very little but is worth much more.

Motion to Suppress by Perri O'Shaughnessy

A good friend gave me a pile of books recently, including several by Perri O'Shaughnessy. This was my introduction to the O'Shaughnessy books, actually written by two sisters. I think I had avoided reading them on the basis of a vague suspicion that the novels would read as if written by a committee. I couldn't have been more wrong. This first book in their Nina Reilly series is seamless and engrossing.

In this debut, Attorney Nina Reilly is suddenly and surprisingly abandoned by her husband (also a lawyer), and not only that, he's taking back his home so she has to get out. So, she and her young son by a previous relationship head to her brother's home at Lake Tahoe while she figures things out. Matt and Andrea and their children are happy to have them stay. And that is followed by another sudden change when Nina rents a nice little office and hangs out her shingle to practice law on her own.

She hires a very practical and also very funny receptionist/secretary and waits in hope for her first client thinking about how many other lawyers there are in this small area. Well, one of the first clients becomes the defendant in Nina's first ever murder trial. Melissa (aka Misty) Patterson is a troubled young woman who seems to have murdered her husband. Not much about the case makes sense and Nina is under pressure from a smarmy big-time attorney to turn the case over to him, but something about Melissa makes Nina unable to turn her away. She digs in her heels, hires one of her ex-husband's old investigators, and starts on a difficult journey to the truth.

It's a fascinating case involving amnesia, shady doings at a casino where Michelle and her husband worked, greed, and infidelity, along with a mysterious event from Michell's childhood at Subic Bay in the Philippines.
I got so involved in it that toward the end I was even ignoring the football games on TV to finish the book. Now that never happens!

I recommend this O'Shaughnessy book at least and I'm anxious to dive into the second in the series. So glad my friend gave me a bunch of them.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

I'm Still Here, Sort of

This week has been one medical appointment after another. We usually group them purposely to just get them over with in one fell swoop - or one swell foop as Dad used to say. The beginning of the week it was Dave so he's all set for a while.

Yesterday I had two painful cysts removed from my scalp, for which the beautician who cuts my hair will be eternally grateful. I don't know whether I have a headache simply because of that or due to the antibiotic I'm on. Have to premedicate because of my artificial knee. The doc also took a biopsy of a painful lesion on the back of my right hand, so that hurts too. It was like taking a plug out of a watermelon. Very funny if you think about it.

Anyway, today I can't really shower, can't wash my hair until tomorrow when the stitches come out. Yuck! Be glad you're just hearing from me via my blog.

I did get some reading done in doctors' waiting rooms, but no review yet. I'm reading the first Perri O'Shaughnessy, Motion to Suppress, and I'm loving it. The characters and the story are keeping me very interested and it's set in Lake Tahoe so the descriptions of the area are wonderful. My friend gave me several books by these sisters since I hadn't read them before.

Our new exercise bike is getting a workout most days but not today. We had snow last night and I believe it's still snowing a bit but it may just be blowing off the roof. It's beautiful, especially since we know it won't last long because it's warming up.

Off to rest my poor aching head.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Busy, Busy, Busy But Rest is Coming

I haven't had a chance to read lately and I'm suffering withdrawal symptoms. Last Thursday we drove to Arlington, Virginia to a conference about COPD. That evening we drove all over town looking for a restaurant we like; Legal Seafoods is a chain of restaurants with clam chowder to die for and everything else seafood you ever loved. The chain originated in Boston but we discovered one in Arlington. We found the street but the street numbers made no sense and we were up and down until finally there it was. Then we drove around and around looking for a parking space close enough for Dave to walk. (We forgot to take the wheelchair.)

The restaurant made me think we were in NYC. Tables about 4" apart and LOUD. One woman had such a loud cackling laugh, we thought she was laying eggs, and a middle-aged guy next to us was entertaining three women with his knowledge of Washington, etc. He was probably from Podunk, but since he was paying, they were a good audience.

On the way back to our motel, I hit the curb of a street divider in the dark. Bang - down went the left front tire. Turned out the left rear also had a big bubble on the side. Everything went downhill from there. Our car spent the next day at a tire store while we went to the conference which, while good, was too much oriented toward professionals, particularly doctors. I learned quite a bit and the packet of materials we received was excellent but about 4 pm I just hit the wall - hardly any sleep and too much expense that worried me.

Sat. we came home, rested for an hour and then went to a basketball game. I wanted nothing more than to curl up in our own bed and sleep for 5 days, but Sun. we had to go grocery shopping. Now we have a busy week of appointments beginning this afternoon. It won't be until next weekend that everything will quiet down so I can just get some sorely needed rest.

Maybe I can read while we wait at all those appointments this week.