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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Home Waters

I just started reading Home Waters edited by Gary Soucie. It's a fly-fishing anthology. Home waters would be that place or places which the fly fisherman considers his own. Not in the literal sense, of course, but in the sense of being at home there. The place with which he is most familiar and most comfortable. A place to which he returns most often in body and spirit.
For me, it is the spring fed limestone creeks and rivers of Bluff Country, the karst region of southeastern Minnesota. There are several rivers and innumerable streams and tiny brooks in this unglaciated countryside. Over a forty year period I have fished most of them.
South Branch Root River

 The South Branch of the Root River is closest to my home and heart. It is the place to which I now return in my retirement years.
This is where I first learned how to entice the wily brown trout with the fly. Then taught my two sons the same art. Later, as they grew up, we wandered far afield to the fabulous waters of Montana and Yellowstone National Park. The Boulder, the Gallatin, the West Fork of the Madison, The Big Hole, The Lamar, Slough Creek and countless others became part of our vocabulary.
 Son Ted and I in Yellowstone

 Vertigo and other infirmities of aging limit my stream time now but the memories live on as strong as ever. Not to sound elitist but fly fishing for trout has produced among the sporting endeavors the closest thing to real literature  Thus  Home Waters whereby a host of writers take readers to their favorite fishing spots in a captivating collection of 55 pieces touched close to my heart and memories of similar places and experiences.

Monday, May 2, 2016

And Then All Hell Broke Loose

Richard Engel  is the chief foreign correspondent for NBC and has  spent much of his 20-year award-winning career  in war zones in the Middle East. As an enterprising freelance reporter,  he initially  got himself into Iraq as a “human shield” for a peace organization in early 2003, and struck a deal with ABC News; he would become the last American television reporter left in Baghdad.

In 2005, his Baghdad hotel was badly rocked by a truck bomb across the street, and as the entire region exploded into war and revolution, he would have other close calls — including being kidnapped in Syria in 2012. To characterize him ad an intrepid reporter would be more than an understatement.

Mr. Engel’s harrowing adventures make for gripping reading in his new book, “And Then All Hell Broke Loose,”.    He deftly uses them as a portal to look at how the Middle East has changed since he arrived in the region as a young reporter back in 1996. The result is a book that gives readers a brisk but wide-angled understanding of the calamities that have unfurled there over the last two decades — most notably, the still unspooling consequences of the careless and botched invasion by the United States invasion of Iraq, and the sad unfolding  of revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Syria
Engel has interviewed most of the key players in these tragedies writ large as well as having a good background in the history of the region. The book is relatively short and snappy  but one couldn’t do much better to gain good insights into the present chaos…..

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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ken Follet: The Century Trilogy

As a young author, beginning some three decades, ago he wrote suspense/thrillers. Although not a big fan of that genre, I liked Eye Of The Needle, The Man From St. Petersburg and Lie Down With Lions. Then, in 1989, he wrote something completely different. It was Pillars Of The Earth, a wonderful story of love and devotion surrounding the building of a cathedral in the early Middle Ages. That novel of historical fiction remains, to this day, as one of my all time favorites.

I write, of course, of Welsh author Ken Follet, who’s historical novel, Fall of Giants, I just reread.

It is the first novel in The Century Trilogy, and follows the fates of five interrelated families-American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh, as they move through the world-shaking events of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women's suffrage.

So what did I think of the series? It’s well done on the vast scale of historical events. The cast of characters, ranging from the real to the imagined, keeps you interested. Follett  always tells good stories. Still, it's not War and Peace nor Pillars of the Earth. This somewhat lesser interest for me is fairly easy to explain . In Pillars I knew little about life in the twelfth century and even less about building a cathedral. The history in those two books, as well as the characters was quite fascinating. That combination was not quite there for me in Fall of Giants. The history of WWI and the countries involved were well known to me. And, of course, to Follets specialty is always the tale which pulls you along rather than the depth of characterization. He weaves the tapestry of people and events together extremely well.

In many ways this book reminded me a good deal of another authors great historical novels. That would be Herman Wouk, whose best sellers set in World War II, Winds of War & War and War and Remembrance, had the same format.

As a history teacher, I like to see good history accurately portrayed in an engaging story. If that’s your cup of tea, I’d recommend it The Century Trilogy most wholeheartedly......

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Revenant by Michael Punke

It was a few weeks before the Academy Awards show that Barb and I went to see the highly touted movie The Revenant starring Leonardo Dicaprio. I followed that up with a review post here on   Sunday, January 17, 2016.  I found the cinematography fabulous, the mostly true story interesting and the main characters lacking depth, especially the Oscar winning stars portrayal. Naturally  reading the book was the only way to find out of the impasse...

I suppose it was reading Dumas The Count of Monte Cristo as a youth that first peeked my interest in stories  of this genre. The Revenant by Michael Punke is a thrilling tale of betrayal and revenge set against the nineteenth-century American frontier, the astonishing story of real-life trapper and frontiersman Hugh Glass
The year is 1823, and the trappers of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company live a brutal frontier life. Hugh Glass is among the company’s finest men, an experienced frontiersman and an expert tracker. But when a scouting mission puts him face-to-face with a grizzly bear, he is viciously mauled and not expected to survive. Two company men are dispatched to stay behind and tend to Glass before he dies. When the men abandon him instead, Glass is driven to survive by one desire: revenge. With shocking grit and determination, Glass sets out, crawling at first, across hundreds of miles of uncharted American frontier. Based on a true story, The Revenant is a remarkable tale of obsession, the human will stretched to its limits, and the lengths that one man will go to for retribution. The movie was fun. The books depth even better...
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@Barrie Summy

Monday, March 21, 2016

My Sisters Keeper

In recent years I’ve returned a bit to fiction and found Barbara Kingsolver and Jodi Picoult to be two new (to me) favorites. My most recent was Picoult’s My Sisters Keeper. I picked it out because I knew it was one of the authors most popular and had also been made into a movie.
It tells the story of 13-year-old Anna, who sues her parents for medical emancipation when she is expected to donate a kidney to her older sister Kate, who is dying from leukemia. Actually, she was conceived and genetically programed for this purpose and has been “donating” various fluids and bodily parts for some time. As young teenagers are sometimes wont to do she rebels and a family crises of the worst and most heart wrenching kind ensues. If you feel drawn to books involving serious ethical challenges this one’s for you. And I both loved and hated this book at the same time….
It was, after a good start,  way too  contrived and manipulative.  An unbelievably precocious teenager who hires a lawyer and cracks wise? The perfect father who take sides in a court hearing against his wifes’ judgment. She, the mother who risks all to save all. Even Judge Judy couldn’t make sense out of this soap opera. Yes, I was very conflicted about this book reading it anxiously to the very end…..  

Thursday, March 10, 2016


I don’t often reread fiction but historical fiction, especially the really good thick ones, provide occasional exceptions. For example  Coleen McCullough’s Caesar. It had been 26 years since I’d read the  first in her series Masters of Rome,  the epic story of the last years of the Roman Republic

It was while at Yale that she wrote her first two books. One of these, The Thorn Birds, became an international best seller that in 1983 was turned into one of the most watched television mini-series of all time. It was that TV series that eventually turned me to her novels of Rome.

1. The First Man in Rome  (1990)

2. The Grass Crown (1991)

3. Fortune's Favorites (1993)

4. Caesar's Women (1996)

5. Caesar (1997)

6. The October Horse (2002)

7. Antony and Cleopatra (2007

Historical fiction at its very best. This goes for the whole series. McCullough brings it all to life: the characters, the politics, the battle scenes, the cultural dynamics...She does this by weaving in an amazing array of characters, major and minor, who ground every storyline. It is enough of a feat that she makes historical characters bristle with life and ancient events burst with excitement. It is even more impressive that she pulls this off while giving us a pretty serious history lesson. She often deviates from the main storyline to offer an anecdote or explanation concerning some arcane item such as the Bona Dea cult, or the function of the crossroads colleges. These sidebars are woven in seamlessly and the pacing doesn't suffer at all. Instead the whole story is enriched along with our appreciation of various facets of the historical context.  I just finished Caesar. Ok now I’m going to go back and read them all….:



Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Stone Cold

Stone Cold is a crime thriller written by David Baldacci. This is the third book to feature the Camel Club, a small group of Washington, D.C. civilian misfits led by "Oliver Stone", a former CIA trained assassin. One by one, men from Stone's shadowy past are turning up dead. To almost all who know him, Harry Finn is a doting father and loving husband who uses his skills behind the scenes to keep our nation safe. But the other face of Harry Finn is that of an unstoppable killer with his sights on Stone. As the Camel Club and Annabelle fight for their lives, the twists and turns whipsaw, leading to a finale that is as explosive as it is shattering. Definitely another Baldacci page turner…
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@Barrie Summy

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Wild Inside

The Wild Inside is a gripping debut novel about the perilous, unforgiving intersection between man and nature. Set in one of my favorite National Parks it was a sure fire read for me....
It was a clear, starry night in Glacier National Park. Fourteen year-old Ted Systead and his father were camping peacefully beneath the rugged peaks and sweeping sky when the unimaginable happened: Ted’s father was mauled by a grizzly bear and dragged to his death. A very unusual but not unheard of event in Montana, it set the psychological tone of this thriller "who done it." Of course, I had just seen the movie Revenant to get me thinking big bad grizzly bears.

 Now, over twenty years later, as a Special Agent for the Department of the Interior, Ted is called back to investigate a crime that echoes the horror of that night. Only this time, the victim was tied to a tree before the animal’s attack. Ted teams up with one of the park officers – a man named Monty, whose pleasant exterior masks an all-too-vivid knowledge of the area and its dangerous people and animals. Residents of the nearby community are less than forthcoming. Suspicious of outsiders and intimately connected to the wilderness that surrounds them, they confront their fellow man and nature with equal measures of reverence and brutality. As the days pass with no clear answers, not only is human life at stake, so too is that of a majestic creature who carries with it valuable evidence. Ted’s search for truth takes him far into the wilderness, on the trail of a killer.
What make this story most compelling is the protagonists balance of his criminal investigation and his memories of the bear killing his father. That challenge is what raises the book above the usual suspense of identifying a killer. And no it wasn't the bear. 
Of course any good murder mystery requires  several possible suspects. My only criticism of the book is the introduction of  too many extraneous characters…. When the suspects become too many to keep track of my inability to emulate Sherlock Homes and guess the culprit becomes a problem....:)


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