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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Devil's Brood

As a child mother took me each Saturday morning to the Children’s Room at the downtown St. Paul public library. Since then reading has been one of my favorite avocations. What a list of books that would be if only I had kept track. Beside the fun of reading comments that people make to the books I'm  reading,  this blog is a neat way of keeping track...:)
This week I’m into historical fiction, courtesy of the inexpensive books found at our local Goodwill Store.  My current reading is a book titled Devil’s Brood by Sharon Kay Penman. It is the third in the author's Eleanor of Aquitaine series. Fiction based on facts about   of King Henry II and his family. This family is tearing itself apart as his four sons reach adulthood. Henry sees Eleanor first as his wife and Queen. Then as the Duchess of Aquitaine. She sees herself as the Duchess first and then as his Queen and wife. Their sons Hal, Richard, Geoffrey and John each have their own ambitions and desires. A family tragedy is writ large around marriage, child-parent relationships, sibling rivalries, ambition, betrayal and just plain greed. The historical facts and descriptions of the 12th century ring true to me. Even more compelling is the author's psychological fine tuning of the main characters motivations. The dialogue is often riveting.
Years ago. I had enjoyed watching Katherine Hepburn win her third Oscar as Eleanor in the film The Lion In Winter. This book exceeded my expectations bringing the story once again to life. I loved this book. I can’t wait to go back now and read the first two books in the series and those of Richard the Lion Heart to follow...

Starring Katherine Hepburn and Peter O'Toole
I’ve been trying to recall other novels I’ve read about the medieval period in European history. One of my all time favorites does come to mind. That is Ken Follett's The Pillars Of The Earth. The story of the building of a great gothic cathedral had a vibrancy all its own. Another was the story of the life of Sir Christopher Wren and the building of St. Paul’s in London . The author of Devil's Brood certainly knows her history and is a wonderful writer.


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@Barrie Summy

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Revenant

The Revenant is a just released  American epic western adventure film directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. Written by González Iñárritu and Mark L. Smith, based in part on Michael Punke's The Revenant: A Novel of Revenge, the film is inspired by the experiences of frontiersman and fur trapper Hugh Glass.  Set in 1823 Montana and South Dakota, the film stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Glass, and co-stars Tom Hardy, Will Poulter, and Domhnall Gleeson.

The plot is essentially a survival story under extreme circumstances which  includes mostly unfriendly Indians (with good reason), harrowing mountain terrain and raging rivers and waterfalls, not to mention fierce storms and blizzards plus a really ticked off grizzly bear protecting her cubs.  Whew!  That all that got my attention enough to make my once a year trip to see a movie.  The fact that the drama was filmed in Montana and Canada also was attractive due to my many fishing trips into those mountain environs. So how does it all add up?

The scenery/cinematography was fantastic  A+

Clothing design.  If a period setting of rags and animals skins counts  B

Acting (DeCaprio)  Lets say his moans, groans and screams under duress were quite realistic  B-

Plot:   Survival and Revenge worked here as they did in my love for the book The Count of Monte Cristo B+

Historical Accuracy    Hey the core of the story was true but a lot of legends grew up around it.  And it’s a movie…   C+

Oscar Winning movie    If this movie wins the Oscar  the competition must be really bad. But if you liked Robert Redford in Jeremiah Johnson,  Revenant is  that movie on steroids.

In conclusion   I expected Mrs. T. to close her eyes a lot and she says she did it only once.  Some thing about a misbehaving bear. Overall I'll give it a B!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Purgatory Ridge

Near Aurora, Minnesota, a major environmental-industrial dispute exists. The Anishinaabe tribe wants the two hundred acres of great white pines that are sacred to them as "Old Grandfathers" protected from the lumber industry. Karl Lindstrom's lumber mill resides on the edge of the forest and he is not known for his conservation methods. As is the case in many local arguments, outsiders come marching in to join the Native Americans protesting the cutting down of the trees.
However, all hell breaks loose when someone blows up the mill, killing a Native American employee. The industrial moguls blame the Anishinaabe tribe and the law agrees even though someone named the Eco-Warrior claims credit for the deed.

PURGATORY RIDGE is an exciting ecological thriller that keeps the suspense and action at high levels throughout the tale. When the story concentrates on the central theme of conservation vs. development, the plot is as good as it gets. In those circumstances, all the key characters seem genuine in their beliefs. When the story line spins into sidebars like the ransom kidnapping it appears as if a plot device has been used to add unnecessary tension to an already strong novel.  Of course any good mystery needs some misleading clues and there are more than a few in this one. Award winning William Kent Kreuger has written a tale  that will appeal to more than Minnesotans who like a good local setting in their mysteries…. Some of the other in the series  with sheriff Cork O’Connor in charge include  BOUNDARY WATERS and IRON LAKE.

Monday, January 4, 2016

The 1st MN Second To None

Within the last several months I've been following my interest in American History by reading books on the Civil War with a focus on the role of Minnesota troops.  One of the best is by local historian Richard Krom and titled The 1ST MN SECOND TO NONE. Here  I was able to  journey through the Civil War, along with Edward Bassett, the young farmboy from the Minnesota frontier, who rushes immediately to join the defense of his country. He encounters all the dangers and struggles that he and his comrades in The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment faced. While not a complete story of the war the book follows that regiments participation in the many famous battles and skirmishes that defined them as one of the most celebrated and honored of the Army of the Potomac. They were known as "The Regiment that never runs." And they never did from Bull Run to Gettysburg.

They saved the day at Antietam, charged into a wall of whistling death at Gettysburg, where ordered to fill a gap in the Union line by General Hancock, this band of brothers faced six times their number and stopped the rebel advance. What makes this book special is that it consists of over two hundred previously unpublished letters of the young pioneer farm boy Ed Bassett to his parents, siblings and friends back in Minnesota. These letters and the accompanying narrative provide an illuminating look into the daily life of the common soldier, both in camp and on the battlefield. In explicit detail they reveal the elation, humor and sorrow of the soldiers toward the war and their longing to return to their homes. I loved it.

Some reenactors resting at the Minnesota monument at Gettysburg.

For a view of this famous regiments role at Gettysburg a brief summary in
The Last Full Measure, 1st Minnesota Regiment at Gettysburg by Keith Rocco.
"General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of the Union Second Corps was trying to avert a disaster on the Union center. The exposed Third Corps was overrun and fleeing the battlefield, with the victorious Confederates in pursuit. This breakthrough opened an avenue to the Union rear that threatened the whole army. Hancock needed men to buy him time to bring reinforcements up to plug the gap in the Federal line. The general observed a body of men lying in a slight hollow, just behind the crest of Cemetery Ridge, to the left of the cemetery. He spurred his horse to this position. Hancock spied Colonel William Colvills 1st Minnesota Infantry, 1st brigade, 2nd division, Second Corps. These men were in reserve, but they had been watching the battle unfold through the dense clouds of gunsmoke that clung to the ground on this sultry summer day. The 1st Minnesota was understrength, shouldering but 262 muskets this day. The regiment had been bloodied on every field, from First Bull Run through Chancellorsville, and was further weakened by detachments. This single, undermanned regiment was the only Union force at hand. My God! exclaimed Hancock when he saw them, Are these all the men we have here! What regiment is this? he demanded. First Minnesota, replied Colvill. Charge those lines, Hancock ordered, pointing in the direction of the Peach Orchard and Plum Run. Hancock and Colvill looked at each other, Hancock knowing what he had ordered and Colvill realizing both the necessity and the grim implications of it. Forward, double-quick, Colvill barked to his men. With bayonets fixed, and rifles at right-shoulder shift, the 1st Minnesota charged down the slope toward Cadmus Wilcoxs Confederate brigade, which was then reforming its lines in the marshy terrain along Plum Run. The Minnesotans advanced along a hundred yard front, with both flanks in the air. Losing men at every step, they continued forward. As the Federals neared the enemy, they leveled their bayonets and charged. The ferocity of this assault stunned the Confederates, driving back the first line of defenders, staggering their advance. Then, as both lines steadied, they exchanged volleys at a distance of thirty yards. Though his line continued to melt away, Colvills Minnesotans traded their lives for the precious minutes Hancock required. In just fifteen minutes it was over. Only 47 men, commanded by a sergeant, rallied to the 1st Minnesotas banner. Two hundred fifteen of their comrades, all of their officers, including Colvill, lay on the field."


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Mountain Story

If you like survival stories, “reality TV’s Survivorman, is probably for you.  It follows Les  Stroud, left on his own, with minimal equipment, in the wilderness to videotape his survival experience. Ok it’s pretty hokey with lots of huffing, puffy, grunting and groaning and trumped up dangers in unlikely situations.  For a real survival story I’d recommend Lori Lansens captivating novel The Mountain Story. Five days. Four hikers.  Three survivors.  And   a gripping tale of adventure, sacrifice and survival set in the unforgiving wilderness of a mountain.    

Nola has gone up the mountain to commemorate her wedding anniversary, the first since her beloved husband passed.  Her daughter Bridget is training for a triathlon. Vonn, her granddaughter  is working out her teenage rebellion at eight thousand feet.  Still reeling with guilt for the  tragic accident that robbed him of his best friend, Wolf Truly is the only experienced hiker among them.   Returning to the site of the accident he plans to take his own life. By chance he meets the three women whereupon they become stranded in a freezing blizzard on the mountain without food or water or shelter……
I think this book meets the definition of a page turner…J

Happy Holidays to each and every one!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lone Wolf

I occasionally wander off my reading track of nonfiction to try an author whose work I was aware of but had not read. Highly acclaimed novelist Jodi Picoult was one such instance.  Her first book which I tried was Plain Truth.  The book involved a murder in an Amish community, a female big city lawyer and the ensuing  murder trial.  It was a fascinating page turner with a few serious factual blips and some shaky editing. Still, the author is a story teller who can get you going. Overall, I enjoyed the book in part because we have a number of Amish neighbors. More recently I tried Picoult again thinking perhaps the previous books glitches had been an aberration……. 

The book I just finished is Lone Wolf.     Lone wolf Luke Warren studies wolf behavior and he leaves his already dysfunctional family for two years to join a pack in the Canadian wilderness and live with them.  Yes, that’s the premise upon which the tale rests. And to add personal drama he returns to civilization to end up in a car crash with his daughter. He suffers a head trauma and ends up in a near brain dead coma. His past is revealed in alternating chapters from his published memoir about living with wolves.
Should Luke be kept alive by artificial means? Is that what he would want?  Luke’s tween daughter and older runaway son disagree fiercely about the answers to these wrenching life or death questions.  This is the deadlock that is at the novel’s center. Ms. Picoult is not afraid to speculate into the future in  her novels.   All this make we wonder about where to draw the line. 
Do fiction writers have an obligation to ensure that the science they put into their novels is credible? Or does the creative license that writers enjoy mean that there's no such responsibility? What happens when a novelist explicitly notes that the work in question is based on trusted science, but scientists insist is it not? In this case it's a zoo, and Picoults “research” is based on a     wolf setting in England with human habituated animals.
Yes its fiction and writers can write what they want but wolves are often judged in our world by myths and legends rather than facts and reality. Little Red Ridinghood still lives on as well as  The Big Bad Wolf….
Wolves are magnificent animals whose true-life behaviors are described in a series of books by scientist David Mech. If you want to learn about wolves try him.  If you want a interesting novel try Lone Wolf by Jodi Picoult….

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Black Earth The Holocaust as History and Warning

It seems as each day passes the  news is bleaker and bleaker. Many avoid the subject entirely through the escapism of unreality TV and many other media. History is full of the stories of the great accomplishments of mankind and also its utter depravities. With millions of people around the world now fleeing for their lives and the survival of their families in the midst of wars and terrorism, a look to the past might teach us something…

Timothy Snyder’s new book Black Earth the Holocaust as History and Warning might be a good start. The facts, analysis and conclusions about the Holocaust are generally well known through the myriad of history books and memoirs on the subject.  Snyder brings an interesting, provocative and I must say unorthodox account to this subject. He identifies the conditions that made the mass murder of millions of people possible and then points out how many of those conditions exist today. That got my attention.

Connecting the absolute horrors of the past to today is an important lesson and challenge to all of us individually and collectively as Americans. We hear much fear mongering among current Presidential candidates almost daily. This  means we must apply ourselves to our own best  mental and moral resources to  judge our potential leaders. It comes down to one crucial question which is how can Americans help build a future based on law, human rights and citizenship.

Evil is now rampant in the parts of the world as it was when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union ran murderously amok over Eastern Europe in 1940.  Black Earth provides a thoughtfully new perspective on this now seemingly ancient evil. It demonstrates the destruction of the Jews was premised on the destruction of states and the institutions of politics. Politics, by the way, in its best form is not a dirty word.

 Snyder's  new approach to the Holocaust is that the destruction of state machinery, he says, first by the Soviets and then by the Germans, stimulated a frenzy of lawlessness and murder, facilitating, in case of the Nazis, genocidal campaigns against imagined enemies. As nation states like Iraq and Syria disintegrate into component religious and ethnic parts with ensuing chaos and mayhem and the United States looks on befuddled on what it can or can’t do about it. The “Caliphate” could spread throughout the Middle East and parts of Africa” some shout. While many want us to bomb more and more.  The borders must be closed against Muslin refugees to keep the terrorists out, they say. Of course, they said the same thing about the Jews who tried to flee Europe from the Nazi terror… And on and on.
I can only think to recommend the book Black Earth. I can’t say I agreed with all of the author's interpretations and conclusions and yes its not an easy read but it can’t help but make you think.  Certainly the way things are going these days….. that’s got to be a good thing.” target="_blank">" />

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@Barrie Summy

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Last of the Presidents Men by Bob Woodward

Woodward’s book, his 18th  is a direct descendant of All the President's Men -- his iconic first book, written with Carl Bernstein in 1974. The Last of the Presidents Men  takes us back to Nixon’s White House and  is based on more than 46 hours of interviews with Alexander Butterfield and never before revealed diaries and other documents.  Butterfield "unable to tell a lie under oath"
was the White House aide who revealed that Nixon was taping conversations in the Oval Office. It was those tapes ordered up by the Supreme Court which revealed the lies and criminal behavior of the President of the United States.

The book doesn’t add a whole lot to the story oft told in many books and biographies of a President  who was bizarrely shy, even  paranoid and willing to settle scores for imagined,  even trivial slights. One who easily lied and was willing to break the law to serve his ends. A telling vignette from the tapes was Nixon telling his top aides that years of bombing in Vietnam had not done one bit of good. He also demanded an inquiry and a jacking up of the air force as to its ineffectiveness. A few month later he unleashed the massive bombing of Cambodia and Laos for political gain in the upcoming presidential election. He wanted to win at any cost.....

Butterfield was an Air Force pilot who fought in Vietnam. Believing his path to higher rank in the service was blocked he wrote to an old college friend H.R. Haldeman looking for a career move in Washington. Haldeman was Nixons chief of staff with Butterfield getting a job in the White House. Most of Nixons aides were longtime friends and insiders. Thus Butterfield was new, open minded yet military loyal to the new President. He remained loyal yet  came to view the man as strange, even more weird than even odd. This comes out at many points in this book which becomes more a personality/psychological portrait than anything else.

I was too young to vote for Richard Nixon though my parents did. He did some good things the opening to China being one.  Still the aura about the man was creepy. Mr. Butterfield recounts Nixon’s efforts to root out an “infestation” of portraits of Joh F. Kennedy in staffers’ offices and his demand for a proper “picture policy” that couldn't be traced back to him.  And he recounts Nixon’s need for talking points — even for events like a small private birthday party, and his extreme discomfort at any social event.

Thus we learn of  Nixon’s secrets, obsessions and deceptions. I’m not a fan of gossipy “celebrity” books but this book is the last word from a man who kept quiet for over fifty years and is backed up by thousands of document never seen before.  I think this may all be relevant today as I watch the Republican candidates spout their utter nonsense and wonder who these men and one women really are.  What lies behind their clichés and fear mongering. What do they really believe? Who are their friends?  How do arrive at decisions based on what values? Yes the story of Richard Nixon might well be worth thinking about again as we elect a new President …. Scary thought.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Troutbirders Favorite Recipes

Its hunting season here now in Bluff Country and our walks with Miss Lily the GSD are somewhat limited in where we can go without running into deer hunters. My hunting efforts in years gone by were mainly limited to upland game birds. Bow hunting  for a few years was famous mostly for some hilarious episodes of ineptitude on my part. :)
 In the late sixties my bride purchased Cooking The Sportman's Harvest from the South Dakota Dept. of Game, Fish and Parks. I'm not sure why due to the fact that my very first effort to bring home game to the family hearth had engendered the following exchange. "What are they," asked an obviously disturbed Queen B. "Squirrels", was my proud reply, 22 in hand. "You can forget that. I'll be damned if I'm gonna cook any skinned rats in this kitchen.
Here are some of the recipes which didn't get used. I wonder why?
Paddlefish squares (illegal to catch in Minnesota. Now on the endangered list.)
Snipe (Boys Scouts were often sent to search for these in the dead of night)
Fishloaf (probably carp with ketchup topping) or that all time favorite... Carp Chowder with PCB's and other genetic mutations.
Pressure cooked Sage Hens (tenderizes geriatric birds of any type)
Sandhill Crane pie (popular also in North Dakota where if it has two or four legs and is not human it can be shot and eaten including tables)
Barbequed perch (not available at Famous Daves)
Fish Egg Soup ( for those with more expensive tastes) Also in the Moss Back Turtle variety
Fricasse of Young Racoon. Yes!
Also in the book were specialized recipes for Opposum, Beaver Tail, and Groundhog.
What it came too finally was that she was sure anything not certified Grade A by the Department of Agriculture was probably not safe to eat. I then presented her with a copy of Upton Sinclairs book The Jungle. The inside story of the meat packing industry in Chicago at the end of the 19th century. Having decided that Grade A was not a sure fire saftey guarantee either, Mrs T. went on to devise her own recipes for pheasant, grouse, geese, duck and trout and walleye. What a woman! Squirrel never did make the "approved list" though.

Sons Ted and Tony carry on the hunting traditions of the Troutbirder family.