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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Citizen Soldiers

In Citizen Soldiers – The U.S. Army From The Normandy Beaches To The Bulge To The Surrender Of Germany author Stephen Ambrose tells the story of the American foot soldier's experience in Europe.  Ambrose, one of my favorite military historians also wrote my favorite history book. It was Undaunted Courage the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition And what a story it is,  all from the point of view of the men who did the actual fighting.  Down and dirty….

This point of view is somewhat new and fresh considering the thousands of books published on this war by and about  the leaders and politicians whose perspective was from the top down.  Mr. Hull’s review in the New York Times gives us a hint of why this is so.

By Michael D. Hull

One chilly morning in November 1944, Lieutenant General Brian Horrocks, commander of the British XXX Corps, climbed into a jeep and was driven to the front to "smell this new American battlefield." The untested U.S. 84th Infantry Division had been placed under his command for the attack on Geilenkirchen, north of Aachen, on the Dutch-German border. When he reached the division area, Horrocks was halted abruptly by an American sentry, who leaped out from behind a tree, pointed his rifle menacingly at the general's stomach and shouted, "Who the hell are you?"

Horrocks got out of the jeep gingerly and replied, "I am a Britisher–and what's more, your division has just been placed under my command."

The GI looked at him incredulously and asked his rank.

"A three-star general," answered Horrocks.

"Holy Moses!" said the soldier. "We don't see many of them up here."

Horrocks reported later that he was "able to meet and chat to a number of these fine-looking young soldiers." And he soon discovered a front-line problem that reminded him all too much of his grim World War I experiences in the trenches.

"It soon became obvious that, with the exception of the U.S. paratroop divisions, whose commanders literally lived with their forward troops (and, of course, with the exception of Patton), the normal U.S. corps and divisional commanders rarely, if ever, visited their forward troops," recalled Horrocks. "This was something I had to put right without delay, because of the appalling wintry conditions which the 84th were likely to meet in this their first experience of battle, opposed by experienced, battle-hardened German troops."

Horrocks ordered the 43rd Wessex Division, the Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry, and artillery and specialized tank units to support the Americans. He also ensured that the U.S. troops received hot food and dry socks, in order to boost morale.

The 84th Division secured its objectives in the Battle of Geilenkirchen, one of the hardest fought actions at the battalion, company and platoon level in the European theater. General Horrocks said he was "filled with admiration for the extreme gallantry displayed by the raw GIs."

The problem of commanders being out of touch with their troops was becoming endemic throughout the U.S. Army forces in the European Theater of Operations (ETO), says Stephen Ambrose in Citizen Soldiers (Simon & Schuster, New York, 1997), his compelling foxhole-level history of the soldiers' war from Normandy to the German surrender. Not even battalion commanders were going to the front. It was humiliating, Ambrose says, that a British general had to order American staff officers and their commanding officers to go check on their soldiers. The American officers' absence was costly, for tens of thousands of young Americans and Germans died that November in battles–most notably in the Hürtgen Forest–that did little to hasten the end of the war and should have been avoided.

The hardships endured by American troops in the hedgerows and foxholes of northwest Europe–and the courage, resilience and adaptability with which they faced them–are chronicled vividly in this masterpiece of historical narrative. It is a stunning account–affectionate, yet honest–of ordinary men learning to beat a stubborn, well-trained foe at his own game. From Omaha Beach to St. Lô, and from Bastogne to Cologne, they marched, shivered, fought, groused, bled, died and triumphed magnificently.

One of the most articulate and informed historians writing today, Stephen Ambrose has distilled in brilliant clarity the essence of the American character that helped to preserve global freedom. Without doubt, his book will enthrall every veteran, scholar and general reader.

When the GIs sailed for Europe, as the author points out, they were going not as conquerors but as liberators. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander, told them their mission in his June 6, 1944, order of the day: "The destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world."

The U.S. troops accomplished their mission. And, in the process, they helped to liberate the peoples of France, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg and the Germans living west of the Elbe River.



Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Apple Orchard

The recent visit of the grandchildren from Arizona took us to a local orchard for a wagon ride and some caramel  apples. What fun!!!


Sunday, November 10, 2013

One Summer: America 1927

For years reading friends had urged me to check out bestselling travel writer Bill Brysons  (“A Walk in the Woods”) humorous writing.  A note from our town librarian Diane that his latest book, a New York Times best seller was available sent me into town to get it.  That book One Summer: America 1927 has  the author, a now traveling through time, taking us back to perhaps a high point or maybe a  low point, depending on your point of view to  the “Roaring 20’s.  I like the book and I didn’t like the book. And on that ambiguous note, I’ll try to explain why….

This is history as you may never have read it. It’s filled with famous and infamous people and  events, amazing coincidences and trivia.  We meet the real Babe Ruth, Charles Lindberg, Al Capone, Silent Calvin Coolidge, Henry Ford   and the  “It” girl Clara Bow.  Bryson writes prose clear as crystal often makes us or shocks us into incredulity taking the heroes of the age down more than a peg.   

For instance, Bow, in addition to being the most celebrated Hollywood icon of her era, was also famously promiscuous, Bryson notes. She had a slew of boyfriends, many of them at the same time. Bryson tells of one boyfriend who arrived at her house only to realize that another man was hiding in the bathroom. The aggrieved boyfriend, Bryson tells us, demanded that the hidden man “come on out so I can knock your teeth out!” When the bathroom door opened, heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey sheepishly appeared. The aggrieved boyfriend wisely kept his fists to himself, and the hulking Dempsey

The rise of radio and tabloid provide a look back at the seed of our own  pop and celebrity culture  which I  found appallingly reminiscent of our own times.

There isn’t a whole lot of deep thinking or interesting conclusions in Bryson’s account beyond cutting remarks and characterizations (often deserved). 

All in all,  the book is a fun read about what proved to be in the authors words….. “one hell of a summer.”
A few of the cast:

Tuesday, November 5, 2013


It was Christmas Eve 1949. My cousin Prudy and I stood proudly in front of the Christmas tree, in my grandmas house in St. Paul, holding up our presents for all to see. Mine was an 027 gauge Lionel electric train. It doesn’t get any better than that. Thus began a lifelong interest in trains. I still have it on display in our basement.

Flash ahead a few years to the early fifties. I lived with my parents and two brothers in a new home on the East Side in St. Paul. It’s was the Daytons Bluff area. Below the bluff lay the Mississippi river and lots of railroad tracks and two "railroad yards." They belonged to the Milwaukee Road and the "Q" (Burlington & Quincy)

Our next door neighbor, Art, was a yard engineer for the Milwaukee Road. He didn't drive, so he walked to and from work every day, except on Saturdays. That's when my father picked him up at work. A trip to downtown St. Paul followed to cash his paycheck and pick up a case of an "adult beverage." I got to tag along.
More often than not on these Saturday afternoons, I was invited to climb up into the cab of the steam engine. Art would wave me aboard. It was a steep climb up into the cab.

Each and every time the excitement built. There was a cord hanging down, which when you pulled it, the steam whistle sounded so loud they must have been able to hear it miles away. A bin of coal was behind the engineers seat. I usually got to take a few shovels full, after opening the boiler door, and pitch it into the flames. It’s was very hot.

The biggest thrill of all was to back the train onto the "turntable." This was a revolving platform which turned to align each train into its own stall. I was ten or eleven years old and pretending to be Casey Jones. The neighborhood kids played in Indian Mounds Park high on the bluffs above the river. I can still picture that river, the airport beyond it and the railroad tracks far below. There were passenger trains like the orange and yellow Hiawatha of the Milwaukee and the silver bulleted Zephyr of the Burlington Road speeding by on their way to faraway places.

The steam engines are  long gone now except for a few touristy amusement rides. The sound of the diesel and later electric engines wasn’t nearly as exciting as the huff and puff of the steamers. Still, I’m left with fond memories of my Dad, Art the engineer, and those Saturday afternoons of boyhood enchantment.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Hindenberg disaster

These photographs are truly amazing. So is the newsreel!   (frame 22) It's been 75 years......

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A Rose For A Crown




Well, that’s what the blurb said.  And some thirty plus female reviewers on a historical novel web site mostly agreed.  Apparently, of late, I’ve been reading the book equivalents of “chick flicks.”  I can live with that….

I just finished  A Rose for the Crown, by Anne Easter Smith. She take to task  the Tudor Dynasty’s well known hack Shakespeare, who is  roundly rebutted for trashing Richard The Thirds reputation. Seen through the eyes of the woman who was the mother of his illegitimate children, a woman who loved him for who he really was, he comes off as not such a bad fellow As the mistress,  Kate Haute,  moves from her peasant roots to the luxurious palaces of England,  a remarkable story ensues.

The bare bones of this novel is historically accurate but our heroine is fictional because though the King had  three illegitimate children,  history is doesn’t tell us who their mother was. Thus Katherine Haute is fictional, but the world she lives in is not. The story is set in the time of the War of the Roses.  As any good story the reader is drawn into interactions of the main characters and the time and place they lived in. For my part I found the tale quite fascinating. Another book quite well done on this era is   is Sharon Kay Penman’s Sunne in Splendour.  Actually,  I think I may have become addicted to it….

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Who Is It?

You were born in a small town in what was then the Austrian Empire, now part of Croatia. You are a brilliant inventor, physicist, mechanical and electrical engineer. You are well aware of your own genius, and you are driven to do whatever it takes to realize your dreams. You will redefine the term "mad scientist"; your home country will honor you and an exciting high-end consumer product will be named after you 150 years after your birth.   WHO ARE YOU?


You are Nikola Tesla, founder of the Tesla Electric Company. You will go on to patent a brushless alternating current induction motor based on a rotating magnetic field principle. The invention will attract the attention of the Westinghouse company, and your investors will sell it to them for $60,000 in cash and stock and generous royalties. Westinghouse will also hire you as an independent consultant at their Pittsburgh laboratories.

 The year 1891 will be a banner year for you. You will demonstrate wireless energy transmission, which will become known as "the Tesla Effect"; you will patent the Tesla Coil; and you will become a naturalized citizen of the United States shortly after your 35th birthday.

You will go on to do groundbreaking work on atmospheric electricity, telegraphy and new types of engines including a steam-powered device dubbed "Tesla’s oscillator." Some of your wilder theories, coupled with your personal behaviors, will lead to your being categorized as a "mad scientist"—but in 1931 you will appear on the cover of Time Magazine.

 In 2003, sixty years after your death, a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs will set out to prove that "electric vehicles can be awesome." They will name their company Tesla Motors in your honor.
And for 2014  The Tesla Model S........

Monday, October 14, 2013

Top Ten Historical Fiction

Historical fiction are novels that re-create a period or event in history and often use historical figures as some of its characters. To be deemed historical, a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described.
Most of us read fiction for pleasure, but some of us gravitate especially to works about the past. People have enjoyed historical fiction since 800 BC when Homer wrote about the Trojan War in the Iliad. The worlds to which historical fiction carries us may seem utterly different from our own - but they really existed. A deep understanding of the past can help us understand our own time and our own motivations better. And by blending history and fiction, a novel lets us do more than simply read history: it lets us participate in the hopes, fears, passions, mistakes and triumphs of the people who lived it. It’s not history as such but a great writer. who has done meticulous research, can truly bring the past alive.
The following listed books are some of my favorite novels of historical fiction. I’ve read them all, some more than once.

Count of Monte Cristo by Dumas
 Devil's Brood by Sharon Kay Penman in the Henry II & Eleanor of Aquitaine series

 Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield

Shogun by James Clavell   

First Man in Rome (and following books) by Colleen McCullough 
Outlander - Diana Gabaldon  

 Pillars of the Earth and World Without End by Ken Follet
   Killer Angels....Michael Shaara   
War & Peace by Tolstoy 

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell
Now what are some of your favorites?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Schooling In The Black Hills

In the gorgeous Black Hills of South Dakota we recently ran across a school as they used to be. Readin. Written and Rithmatic.  Take a look....


And, of course, it didn't hurt that the setting was gorgeous.  Though I'm sure the children always paid attention, were well behaved and above average.....

Saturday, October 5, 2013

A Passion To Teach. Fifty-Eight Years of Humorous, Weird, and Engaging Tales


Author Richard Kowles is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in Biology at Saint Mary s University Minnesota in Winona, MN. He has taught for the past fifty-eight years at various levels, initially at the high school level and then at the University. Gaining his PhD. he carried on his career both in the research laboratory and the classroom.  Clear he loved both but he was most passionate about teaching.  Incidentally, he and I were colleagues for a few years teaching high school in small town Minnesota.

 “A Passion to Teach: Fifty-Eight Years of Humorous, Weird, & Engaging Tales”  is both a great memoir of growing up in tough circumstances and succeeding but also a warm and engaging  and full of  funny stories of learning to teach and being great at it.  “It’s been a wonderful career,” he said. “The students have kept me young and on my toes.”

I think what most appealed to me about this book was the fun that Kowles obviously had teaching. There was a passion there to help students learn and joy satisfaction when they did.

I know I enjoyed my work till the day I retired or as Kowles put “If you can’t have fun, maybe you should look somewhere else.”  If you or someone you know is interested in looking at a teaching career from the inside out or just plain a fun read, this might be the book for you.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Norwegian Math Test

Ole wants a job, but the foreman won't hire him until he passes a little math test.

Here is your first question, the foreman said. 'Without using numbers, represent the number 9.'

'Without numbers?' Ole says, 'Dat's easy.' and proceeds to draw three trees.

'What's this?' the boss asks.

'Vot! You got no brain? Tree and tree and tree make nine,' says Ole.

'Fair enough,' says the boss. 'Here's your second question. Use the same rules, but this time the number is 99.'

Ole stares into space for a while, then picks up the picture that he has just drawn and makes a smudge on each tree. 'Dar ya go.'

The boss scratches his head and says, 'How on earth do you get that to represent 99?'

'Each of da trees is dirty now. So, it's dirty tree, and dirty tree, and dirty tree. Dat is 99.'

The boss is getting worried that he's going to actually have to hire this Norwegian, so he says, 'All right, last question. Same rules again, but represent the number 100.'

Ole stares into space some more, then he picks up the picture again and makes a little mark at the base of each tree and says, 'Dar ya go. Von hundred.'

The boss looks at the attempt. 'You must be nuts if you think that represents a hundred!'

Ole leans forward and points to the marks at the base of each tree and says, 'A little dog come along and pooped by each tree. So now you got dirty tree and a turd, dirty tree and a turd, and dirty tree and a turd, vich makes von hundred.'

'So, ven do I start?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Christ and His Saints Slept

It was so bad the people said "Christ and His Saints Slept."It was in the 12th century, several generations after the Norman conquest, of England. Civil war raged across the land. Two people battled for the English Crown. One a man and most surprisingly, the other, a woman.
The woman was Maude, daughter of Henry I, who dies without a male heir. He annoints and trains his daughter for the job. She is smart, courageous and yes stubborn. The problem is many of the English barons (this is a feudal system) will not submit to a woman. Mauds cousin usurps the throne and the battle is on, as some of her barons and relatives remain loyal.
Never quite fullfilling her quest, she becomes the "mother" of kings. In effect, through the child she bore to the abusive Count Geoffrey of Breton, a son, the future Henry II, founds the Plantagenet Empire and dynasty. What a remarkable story. What a remarkable woman! I loved it.
This book is the first in a series of eventually to be four volumes, in author Sharon Kay Penman's "Eleanor of Aquitaine" series. If you like historical fiction this is a real good stuff. Penman combines excellent historical background knowledge with realistically drawn characterizations.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Beloit College Mindset List.

If the entering college class of 2013 had been more alert back in 1991 when most of them were born, they would now be experiencing a severe case of déjà vu. The headlines that year railed about government interventions, bailouts, bad loans, unemployment and greater regulation of the finance industry. The Tonight Show changed hosts for the first time in decades, and the nation asked “was Iraq worth a war?” 

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List. It provides a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college. It is the creation of Beloit’s Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride and Emeritus Public Affairs Director Ron Nief.  It is used around the world as the school year begins, as a reminder of the rapidly changing frame of reference for this new generation. It is widely reprinted and the Mindset List website at receives more than 300,000 hits annually.

As millions of students head off to college this fall, most will continue to experience the economic anxiety that marked their first two years of life just as it has marked their last two years of high school. Fears of the middle class--including their parents--about retirement and health care have been a part of their lives. Now however, they can turn to technology and text a friend: "Momdad still worried bout stocks. urs 2? PAW PCM".

Members of the class of 2013 won't be surprised when they can charge a latté on their cell phone and curl up in the corner to read a textbook on an electronic screen. The migration of once independent media—radio, TV, videos and CDs—to the computer has never amazed them. They have grown up in a politically correct universe in which multi-culturalism has been a given.  It is a world organized around globalization, with McDonald's everywhere on the planet. Carter and Reagan are as distant to them as Truman and Eisenhower were to their parents. Tattoos, once thought "lower class," are, to them, quite chic. Everybody knows the news before the evening news comes on.

Thus the class of 2013 heads off to college as tolerant, global, and technologically hip…and with another new host of The Tonight Show.  

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013

   Most students entering college for the first time this fall were born in 1991.

  1. For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead.
  2. Dan Rostenkowski, Jack Kevorkian, and Mike Tyson have always been felons.
  3. The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.
  4. They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
  5. Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister.
  6. Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
  7. Earvin "Magic" Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
  8. Tattoos have always been very chic and highly visible.
  9. They have been preparing for the arrival of HDTV all their lives.
  10. Rap music has always been main stream.
  11. Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor choice.
  12. Someone has always been building something taller than the Willis (née Sears) Tower in Chicago.
  13. The KGB has never officially existed.
  14. Text has always been hyper.
  15. They never saw the “Scud Stud” (but there have always been electromagnetic stud finders.)
  16. Babies have always had a Social Security Number.
  17. They have never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer.
  18. Bungee jumping has always been socially acceptable.
  19. They have never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.
  20. American students have always lived anxiously with high-stakes educational testing.
  21. Except for the present incumbent, the President has never inhaled.
  22. State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods.
  23. The European Union has always existed.
  24. McDonald's has always been serving Happy Meals in China.
  25. Condoms have always been advertised on television.
  26. Cable television systems have always offered telephone service and vice versa.
  27. Christopher Columbus has always been getting a bad rap.
  28. The American health care system has always been in critical condition.
  29. Bobby Cox has always managed the Atlanta Braves.
  30. Desperate smokers have always been able to turn to Nicoderm skin patches.
  31. There has always been a Cartoon Network.
  32. The nation’s key economic indicator has always been the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  33. Their folks could always reach for a Zoloft.
  34. They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
  35. Women have always outnumbered men in college.
  36. We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
  37. Amateur radio operators have never needed to know Morse code.
  38. Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Estonia have always been independent nations.
  39. It's always been official: President Zachary Taylor did not die of arsenic poisoning.
  40. Madonna’s perspective on Sex has always been well documented.
  41. Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship basketball.
  42. Ozzy Osbourne has always been coming back.
  43. Kevin Costner has always been Dancing with Wolves, especially on cable.
  44. There have always been flat screen televisions.
  45. They have always eaten Berry Berry Kix.
  46. Disney’s Fantasia has always been available on video, and It’s a Wonderful Life has always been on Moscow television.
  47. Smokers have never been promoted as an economic force that deserves respect.
  48. Elite American colleges have never been able to fix the price of tuition.
  49. Nobody has been able to make a deposit in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
  50. Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the Evening News came on.
  51. Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
  52. They have never been Saved by the Bell
  53. Someone has always been asking: “Was Iraq worth a war?”
  54. Most communities have always had a mega-church.
  55. Natalie Cole has always been singing with her father.
  56. The status of gays in the military has always been a topic of political debate.
  57. Elizabeth Taylor has always reeked of White Diamonds.
  58. There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
  59. For one reason or another, California’s future has always been in doubt.
  60. Agent Starling has always feared the Silence of the Lambs.
  61. “Womyn” and “waitperson” have always been in the dictionary.
  62. Members of Congress have always had to keep their checkbooks balanced since the closing of the House Bank.
  63. There has always been a computer in the Oval Office.
  64. CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging.
  65. Avon has always been “calling” in a catalog.
  66. NATO has always been looking for a role.
  67. Two Koreas have always been members of the UN.
  68. Official racial classifications in South Africa have always been outlawed.
  69. The NBC Today Show has always been seen on weekends.
  70. Vice presidents of the United States have always had real power.
  71. Conflict in Northern Ireland has always been slowly winding down.
  72. Migration of once independent media like radio, TV, videos and compact discs to the computer has never amazed them.
  73. Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
  74. Congress could never give itself a mid-term raise.
  75. There has always been blue Jell-O.


Saturday, September 7, 2013

Minnesota and the Civil War


A major new exhibit on Minnesota’s role in the Civil War began this summer at the Minnesota History Center in St. Paul.  We decided to take a look with out friends Gary and Rosie. It was more than a decade  ago now, when the multi-millionaire owners of the Twins and the Vikings were threatening to move their franchises unless public  funds were provided to build them new stadiums,  that our legislature chose instead to fund a new history center. I supported that decision not liking to be blackmailed into funding a private enterprise.  Recently new stadiums were built first for our State University and then partially  funding the Twins baseball park.    The beautiful history center remains a point of State pride to me. Looking out from the upper floor of The History Center toward our State Capitol.
It is an interactive museum with both permanent and changing exhibits. It  hosts concerts, lectures, family days and other special events throughout the year. The building is also home to the Minnesota Historical Society library and archives, a research destination for schoolchildren, family historians and academics.

 The intense divide between North and South in the 1850s—an explosive mixture of politics, beliefs, and economics—turned to war in 1861.
From a brand new state flush with patriotism, Minnesotans were the first in the Union to respond to the call to support the Union.  Romantic notions of battle quickly fled, even as perseverance in the face of unforeseen carnage sparked an enduring legacy. In family and friendship circles at home and on the battlefield, people mourned, made sacrifices and weighed every possibility and outcome. Minnesotans’ lives were changed forever.

“I am sick of reading in the papers of “the glory” of war....Is there glory in the shrieks of men torn by bullet or shell? Is there glory in the cry of the mother as she sees her child’s head swept off by a cannonball? Is there glory in the weeping of widows and orphans? Is there glory in the burning cities and the desolated homes that War leaves behind him? Is there glory in the undying hatreds that war creates and nourishes?...Let these newspaper men come down here and see for themselves war in its terrible reality.”
-William Christie, First Battery Minnesota Light Artillery, writing to to his father from Vicksburg, August 6, 1863.

Here Mrs. T. checks out an exhibit on the role of women in the war. There were some 250 who actually fought. And knowing her attitudes on human slavery she could well have been one of them.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Smoke Jumper

Yes, I’ve gotten somewhat away from my usual diet of history and biography lately. But what the heck it was summer and time for some novels with exotic locales, daring adventures, and romance. Take my latest The Smoke Jumper by Nicholas Evans .

Positive: Descriptive, informative background , unconventional love story.

Negative: Predictable. Ending was a little far fetched.

The Bottom Line is  I enjoyed this book for its entertainment  value. It had  lots of action and really interesting settings.    I recommend it. 

The Smoke Jumper was written basically in three Parts,  The first part sets the scene of a platonic love triangle who protagonist are two young “smoke jumpers" and a beautiful girl. The fact that their interactions were initially set in Western Montana won me over right away. Unfortunately the smoke jumping part, which I find quite fascinating is limited  to the opening chapters.  

Part Two focuses on the tangled a tangled web of love and duty following deaths and injury from a major forest fire. It’s interesting but a little stilted and while the background is believable the events seem a little too pat.  Romance its not.  Its denial and moral dilemmas.

Part Three has lot of action in a civil war in  Uganda but to fit the plot  together   the story line stretches credulity.
I really did enjoy  the book. With only a few,  but really interesting characters,  it didn’t take too long to become involved in their fate.  A fun book to take along to the beach!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Time Traveler's Wife (Part 2)

First the movie…. Then the book

A few years ago Mrs. T. and I went to see the movie The Time Travelers Wife.   Shortly thereafter, I reviewed it on this blog.   My critique was fairly roundly panned by a few of my favorite “commenters”.  A common theme was that if I had read the book first, I would have understood the movie much better. I filed that thought on the To Be Read List.  Here is what I wrote back then.  “Now I don’t mind "chick flicks" at all. That is especially true if their based on a bestselling, generally highly rated novel. Even though I hadn't read the book, I figured with a title like that it had to be something special. It was.  It's had all the scenes that make you want to tear up. The wedding where the groom is late, then suddenly arrives. There are two cute and precocious children. They were his daughter and his wife..... Oh wait a minute that doesn't sound good. Our hero, Henry the husband keeps skipping out at inopportune moments and then dies twice and...... Ooops , let me start over.  

Henry is a time traveler. That means he comes and goes in space and time pretty much at random. Claire meets and falls in love with him as a child. She grows up. They get married. This whole time travel thing is really really inconvenient but she has no regrets. I'm pretty sure she said that, although with all the jumping back and forth, time and space wise, it's hard to be sure. This is a Love Story. Nobody actually says "love is never having to say you’re sorry," from the movie of the same name. Actually Henry is sorry a lot.

Alright, you can see where I'm going. It's not bad. It's not awful but the whole thing is pretty silly, even, dare I say it, trite. The characterizations are minimal. Some will point to deeper meanings behind all this. Deconstructing it’s all obviously a deep metaphor for something else. Well, yes, life has its ups and downs. I even got a little wet around the eyes a few times .... but mostly, I had to work hard to stifle some serious giggles at what were clearly the wrong times. Mrs. T. didn't appreciate that.

Btw I asked Mrs. T.  if she would recommend the movie to her friends. She replied "yes, but only if they were fans of science fiction." I asked how many of those she had. "None," she replied. Maybe she was reluctant to use the word romance. For the male part of the audience, I think they could, at least, understand why Henry kept coming back. That Claire was well worth the effort.”

So. Finally I just finished reading the book. It was worse than the movie . Yes  is it was cleverly written and surely unique but in the end even more confusing than the movie. Perhaps,  I should stick to reading comic books. At least I can follow the plot….