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Saturday, July 25, 2015

On Pluto: Inside the Mind of Alzheimer's



From childhood on I’ve always loved books about outer space, astronomy and the planets, so when I plucked a book titled On Pluto off the shelf of our local small town library, I was more than a little surprised to find it subtitled Inside the Mind of Alzheimer’s. I knew I had to read it for you see my grandmother & my mother had this affliction.

Alzheimers is the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S.A. and the only one of these diseases on the rise. More than 5 million Americans have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a related dementia. Chances are you already personally know of someone close or surely will someday.

Greg  O’Brien, an award-winning investigative reporter, has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's. One of those millions.  The short term memory, the basis of cognitive impairment, goes first but our long term memory and skill habits allow us to carry on.  Using that basis,  O’Brien decided to fight it by telling his own story of  using what remain of his lifelong journalistic skills.  O’Brien is a great storyteller. I’ve read lot of information about this disease in recent years but this book is different. It puts the reader   in the role of the “other” that is from the inside looking out.  This book is raw, painful, and soul searching. For my generation and others to follow,  it’s a roadmap to navigate the future. How to fight it. How to live with it and understand it.  And never give up….

 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Love, Greg & Lauren

Early on the morning of September 11, 2001, Lauren Manning-a wife, the mother of a ten-month-old son, and a senior vice president and partner at Cantor Fitzgerald-came to work, as always, at One World Trade Center. As she stepped into the lobby, a fireball exploded from the elevator shaft, and in that split second her life was changed forever.

Lauren was burned over 82.5 percent of her body. As he watched his wife lie in a drug-induced coma in the ICU of the Burn Center at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Greg Manning began writing a daily journal. In the form of e-mails to family, friends, and colleagues, he recorded Lauren’s harrowing struggle-and his own tormented efforts to make sense of an act that defies all understanding. This book is that e-mail diary: detailed, intimate, inspiring
messages that end, always, as if a prayer for a happy outcome:
We share this story day by astonishing day. Greg writes of the intricate surgeries, the painful therapies, and the constant risk of infection Lauren endured. Through his eyes we come to know the doctors, nurses, aides, and therapists who cared for her around the clock with untiring devotion and sensitivity. We also come to know the families with whom he shared wrenching hospital vigils for their own loved ones who were waging a battle that some would not win. For those with eighty percent burn the odds of survival were very slim. I think spellbound best describes my reaction to the reading of this story.....

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Fort

So why did Henry Wadsworth  Longfellow make a national hero out of Paul Revere, when Revere was only one of the many riders sent our by Dr. Warren on that fatefull night? This in a poem written many years later just before the civil war.

And why was the biggest naval disaster to befall the American cause before Pearl Harbor, an obscure struggle unremebered in most history books?
And what were the British up to building a fort in the far north of Massachusetts at Majabogwadice (now Castine, Maine)?
Why was Paul Revere court martialed on charges of ineptitude, & dereliction of duty bordering on treason?
Should Massachusetts have demanded and ultimately recieved payment by the federal government for a $300 million dollars(in todays money) disaster solely of its own making?
What role did young Lt. Moore later play in driving Napoleon from Spain?
And on and on with many surprising twists and turns in a factually based historical novel, The Fort by Bernard Cornwell. After reading Cornwell previous gem, Agincourt some month ago, I praised his writing as some of the best of modern historical fiction. He lives up to that standard again in The Fort. If military history is your thing,  I would highly recommend this book without any reservation.


Monday, June 29, 2015

Suspect


 
From the inside cover….

LAPD cop Scott James is not doing so well. Nine months ago, a shocking assault by unidentified men killed his partner, Stephanie, nearly killed him, and left him enraged, ashamed, and ready to explode. He is unfit for duty until he meets his new partner.

Maggie is not doing so well, either. A German shepherd who survived two tours in Afghanistan sniffing explosives before losing her handler, her PTSD is as bad as Scotts.
They are each others last chance. And they’re about to investigate the one case no one wants them to touch: identifying the men who murdered Stephanie. But what they find could ultimately break them both.

 Both man and dog are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Together this pair of wounded warriors must help heal each other, while searching for clues in a last-chance case that could be their salvation or their untimely end.
Robert  Crais' work, "Suspect" is an intense, fast-paced and thrilling page turner.

Needless to say, Scott will come to feel quite differently about Maggie. As she will to him. In fact, one of the riskier things Crais does is occasionally write from Maggie’s point-of-view. Attempting something that could easily come across as maudlin and manipulative, Crais succeeds in giving us a window into the thought processes of a sensitive, well-trained dog. Like Scott, fall in love with Maggie. She’s brave, resourceful, empathic, and loyal. A couple of chapters into the book I fell in love with her just like in real life I did with my Max, Ben, Chessie, Muffy, Baron, and now Lily.  A dog lover am l. And good stories too….:)
My two German Shepherds.....  Lily and Baron .
 
 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Dream Lover




“The finest female genius of any country or age: “  Elizabeth Barrett Browning

“She beyond doubt or comparison the strongest woman and the most astonishingly gifted:”
Pianist and composer Franz Liszt

As a strong woman I would put her up there with Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth I and certainly not just because she often dressed in men clothes  ,  smoked cigars, wrote best selling books and captivated and scandalized her times.... History teacher and blogger Troutbirder

In her own words: “ When my submission has been claimed, no longer in the name of love and friendship but by reason of some right or power, I had drawn upon the strength that is buried in my nature. I have straightened by shoulders and thrown off the yoke. I alone know the latent force hidden within me. I alone know how much I grieve and suffer and love. “
George Sand

       
                                             

Elizabeth Berg’s new published historical novel The Dream Lover tells the remarkable story of George Sand.  The scenes alternate between Aurore Dupins childhood where her beloved father dies from an accident, her relationship with her mother, who is never accepted by her father’s stern and traditional mother, who educates her in the traditions of the aristocracy. It is a  loveless marriage which leads to being a mother and ultimately to her goal at age thirty of becoming a successful writer with a new name George Sand. She was a woman who struggled and often overcame the conventions and confines of women in  the time and place where she lived.

I think the highest praise I can give author Elizabeth Berg is to compare her to my favorite movie actress Meryl Streep, who is often praised as becoming Julia Childs or Margaret Thatcher etc. in her portrayals.  Wonderful prose and brilliant revealing insights made me think Elizabeth Berg WAS Aurore Dupins/George Sand and it doesn’t get any better than that….

My only criticism of this lush and fascinating novel is, naturally, lack of chronology. The story alternates between chapters of young Aurore Dupins childhood and early failed marriage and her life as famous author George Sand.

And just a little name dropping, you’ll meet my mom’s idol Frederic Chopin, Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugene Delacroix and Victor Hugo along the way….:)


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric_Chopin_and_George_Sand



 







 
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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Certain Justice by P.D. James


By the time I was a high school teenager I had graduated from reading Robin Hood, Ivanhoe and King Arthur, to  detective novels & murder mysteries. Perhaps it was all due to the fact that my eleventh grade English teacher required ten book reports.  Somewhat, to my own amazement, I had convinced her to give me a full ten book credits for reading the Complete Sherlock Holmes, all thousand plus pages and The Count of Monte Cristo for extra credit.  Thank you Mrs. H. Of course, the fact that I left school at 2 p.m  to begin a grocery store carry out boy job till 9 P.M,  might have  helped seal the deal.   In any case, I read all  of Conan Doyle’s stories and was quite hooked on the detective genre for a few more  years.

More recently, an obituary in the New York Time reminded of that earlier interest – “Phyllis Dorothy James White, who became Baroness James of Holland Park in 1991 but who was better known as “the Queen of Crime” for the multilayered mystery novels she wrote as P. D. James, died on Thursday at her home in Oxford, England. She was 94.”
I had read most of her mysteries featuring Inspector Adam Dalgleish over the years. The depth of her characterizations, and plots enhanced by wonderful and a little quant English prose cannot be exaggerated.   One I had missed was A Certain Justice.

It was very good involving the murder of a barrister in the heart of London and in Englands  highest court of law.  Many of her other novels went well beyond very good to superlative. The best ever actually and I would recommend  all.
 

 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Black River by S.M. Hulse


I don’t do “Westerns”.  Never have. Never will, though my Dad spoke to me of Zane Grey and Riders of the Purple Sage as a child.  Heck, I didn’t even watch Westerns on TV during their heyday in early television.  I do love flyfishing rivers though, so when I plucked S.M.  Hulses debut novel Black River off the library shelf, opened it to the middle and saw the word Montana three times,  I took it home. Surprise!  It wasn’t another flyfishing gem like the book A River Runs Through It or Robert Redfords movie of the same name. It turned out to be a western but not like the kind your granddaddy loved…..

 Black River is a modern-day Western that takes place in the small town Rocky Mountain West.  Stoic   sixty-year-old Wes Carver loses his wife, Claire, to cancer in the opening pages, leaves Spokane with her ashes to return to Black River a small Montana town where he worked as a CO (Corrections Officer) in a State Prison, meets his estranged step son and finds out the man who tortured him in a prison riot is up for parole.  He is invited to speak at parole hearing. Not incidentally there he would face the prisoner who had smashed all his fingers leaving him unable to exercise his favorite hobby and talent to play his beloved fiddle ever again.
Hulse has centered her novel around these and other dramatic events leaving a good but emotionally fragile man some very hard choices. I've lived in a small town all my adult life and summered in  Montana enough to have somewhat a sense of these places.  Amazingly,  Hulse captures it all perfectly with spot on detail,  spare prose and clear purpose. Yes, there are several “flashbacks” which I ordinarily abhor. Here though they give emotional depth to the unfolding events. I didn’t mind them at all

By The Way, she wrote the book as her MFA thesis at the University of Oregon.  Ah, to be so young and so talented. This book should be at the top of any list of best debut novels for 2015…..

 

 

 
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@Barrie Summy

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Lion's Gate by Steven Pressfield


 
Lot of excellent histories have been written of the Six Day War, whereby Israel against seemingly overwhelming odds overcame the combined forces of Jordan, Syria and Egypt.  Steven Pressfield, author of one of my all-time favorite combat novels, his classic "Gates of Fire" about the Greeks at Thermopylae, has shown his ability to write about a specific war in terms of its universality.   He  takes a different approach in  The Lion's Gate. It is what he calls a "hybrid history," a narrative story drawing on hundreds of hours of interviews with veterans of the war, documentary research and the author's imagination. The whole book is composed of first-person accounts, most factual but a few invented. And what an account it is.  That account is not “balanced”. There are no Arab stories. The author wrote it that way to tell about war as it meant to a people. We know that beliefs come down to us from history which in the Middle East seems particularly dark and confused. And so is “justice” over thousands of years.

Belief in their mission never wavers among the Israelis. "If we lose, what our enemies will do to us will make Auschwitz look like summer camp," says Danny Matt, a paratroop commander under Ariel Sharon.

A former U.S. Marine, Pressfield knows war and he knows the men who fight wars. He admires the Israelis for their victory, but he does not discount the grim losses on both sides.

 Pressfield relates one soldier’s conclusion which surely rings true for all wars 

"We looked death in the eye but death did not look away," he says. "He took as many of us as he wanted."  I found this account most interesting.

 

Monday, March 30, 2015

A King's Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman



A Kings Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman















History and Historical Fiction

If you ever had the idea that history books (read textbooks & so on, thick tomes with lots of obtuse words and tons of footnotes) are invariably dull.... think again. Many of today’s great history writers be they professional historians or amateurs, write really good stuff. That are erudite and yet  fun to read. When they pack it into an exciting story like narrative, you really can’t go wrong. In my view there are two versions of this trend. Popular history and historical fiction.

Let’s start with straight history and biography. This is nonfiction based on accurate and well researched background material. The best ones tell a true story and bring  it to life. Think of authors like Steven Ambrose, David McCullough, William Manchester, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Shelby Foote and many others.

The other equally exciting development is the vast improvement in historical fiction writing. Here the authors knowledge of the subject combined with excellent writing/storytelling technique will surely get your attention. As long as the line between fiction and nonfiction is clear, I really don’t believe it to be a bad thing if that line narrows. That is IF the writing is honest and well done and IF it draws more interest in history. Check out British author Hillary Mantel for a good example.
Book Review:  A Kings Ransom by Sharon Kay Penman

.A good read I just finished was the final book A Kings Ransom  in Sharon Kay Penman’s magnificent series on the Plantagenet’s, the Norman rulers of England in the 12th to the 14th centuries. There were five books all ot them marvelous.

. When Christ And His Saints Slept (1995)

Time And Chance (2002)

Devil's Brood (2008)

Lionheart (2011)

A King's Ransom (2014)

  Penman is one the top writers of medieval historical fiction. In 
A King’s Ransom she takes us to the twelfth century and the reign of King Richard the Lionhearted. We first meet Richard, one of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine’s four sons, in Time and Chance.  If you’re a movie buff this the family of the classic Lion In Winter. In Lionheart, we follow the warrior King to the Holy Lands on Crusade. 

A King’s Ransom is the follow up to Lionheart and tells the story of King Richard I’s imprisonment in Germany at the hands of Duke Leopold of Austria and Emperor Heinrich VI and of his battle to win back his Kingdom from his rapacious brother John of Magna Carta fame.

Penman is both rigorous and meticulous in her research. Most importantly she brings her characters to life as few othes.  You’ll meet the real King in this book and not the historical cliché and stereotype.

  It is November 1192 when returning home from Crusade, Richard and his crew are overcome by a sudden storm, its fierce winds propelling the ship onto an unfriendly shore. Forced to make a dangerous choice, Richard finds himself in enemy territory, where he is captured—in violation of the papal decree protecting all crusaders—and handed over to the Duke of Austria. Imprisoned in the notorious fortress at Trifels, from which few ever leave alive, Richard, for the first time in his life, is helpless, while his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, moves heaven and earth to secure his release. Amid betrayals, intrigues, infidelities, wars, and illness, Richard’s courage and intelligence will become legend.  Indeed……

Perhaps one should start at the beginning in this magnificent series but then again each one can stand alone. In any case, I recommend them all.....

Since I've been invited to join the Book Review Club you're invited to stop in and take a look by clicking on the icon below....:)

 




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@Barrie Summy