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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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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 3, 2015

The Last Hero - A Life Of Henry Aaron

Howard Bryant's "The Last Hero" is the fascinating  story of baseball great Henry Aaron and his journey. It is more than a baseball story though because in this clearly written and culturally important biography, we learn of a shy man who struggled to break out of the stifling  cocoon of southern racism in which he grew up.   Then there  also was his introverted personality which left him vulnerable to unfair stereotyping as well.  There is plenty of baseball here, but just as important the book includes front-office politics and the struggles of those who, like Aaron, came up right behind Jackie Robinson. It is also a deft examination of how white writers and black writers wrote about Aaron.

Hank Aaron has a rightful place in sports history. His accomplishments are seemingly never given the full credit they deserved.  He was the black baseball player chasing Babe Ruth's great home run record. It was in 1973 and '74 that Hank Aaron's pursuit of Ruth took on its dramatic and spellbinding arc. He'd break the record -- if he wasn't shot or maimed first. He had well-wishers, to be sure, but the death threats were relentless and kept the FBI busy. A black player had toppled the supreme number in baseball, the very game that had once been off-limits to his people.

More than another “sports idol” book The Last Hero tells the story  of an important time and place in American history. How this country began to change in the fifties thru the seventies on its baseball diamonds, through the Civil Rights movement and beyond…..
Aaron breaks Babe Ruth's home run record...

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@Barrie Summy

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Devil In The White City

I guess I was a little late in catching up with best selling author Erik Larson.  Thus when I was looking over bargain books at our local Goodwill store I latched onto Devil In The White City.  A true story based on events that took place in Chicago during the famous worlds fair of 1893. Subtitled  Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America.  For my taste it would have been two books.  The magic was the absolutely fascinating story of the planning, building and operation of the fair itself.  What a revelation of an new world at its outset! That is the birth of modern America.
The second book would have been the story of as mass murderer and all the incumbent details. No thank you. If I wanted to learn more about insane people who do horrible things to there fellow human beings I could just as easily turn  on my television and watch the evening news....:(

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

All The Light We Cannot See

In All The Light We Cannot see Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Doerr has written a wonderful story about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.
Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as a lockmaster.  When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo.  With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge. Gorgeously written and in accurate detail Doerr connects the lives of the two young people showing against all odds how people can be good to one another in horrible circumstances.  

The author skillfully creates a web of ties between the two protagonists before they even have met. St. Malo is a beautiful setting for the story. Occupied by German forces, under siege by Allied bombers, it heads inexorably to a stunning climax. The book is in  short but lyrical chapters which make it readily easy to read and connect the various parts.

 The walled Breton city of Saint-Malo is a wonderfully picturesque and apt setting for the most dramatic part of Mr. Doerr’s story. Saint-Malo was occupied by German forces and under siege by the Allied bombers that destroyed much of it before the war was over.   To enjoy the book it didn’t hurt either that I had promised Mrs. T. a trip to France when she retired. And yes we spent some time in St. Malo.  All the Light We Cannot See is a terrific book. I liked it a lot….:)

With our friends Steve and Jewel an evening meal at a sidewalk café in St. Malo
And a walk thru the walled city

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Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Alamo : The Anatomy of the Last Stand Myth

I just finished reading Exodus From The Alamo by Phillip Thomas Tucker. Mrs. T had dropped it off at our small local library and was asked what I thought of the book. This is not an everyday occurrence. My red flag alert immediately went up.
Turns out this book has been quite controversial. I wasn’t surprised to find this out since the author basically attacks and vilifies the "story" or "myth" of the Alamo as it has been presented to generations of schoolchildren and movie goers. Think John Wayne and Fess Parker. According to Tucker, the whole thing was about the spread of slavery into the verdant land of another nation. The leadership of the Texas rebels was flawed from top to bottom. The people who were already living in Texas (both Anglo and Mexican)were divided about the nature and causes of the rebellion. Santa Anna was akin to Napoleon as a military genius. Huh?
I had tended to agree with the authors basic thesis about the importance of slavery. Some of the details were new and interesting to me, since my basic knowledge of the documented facts about this event (particularly the fight itself and the deaths of Travis, Crockett & Bowie was limited. And some of the analysis was quite laughable.... Santa Anna another Napoleon?
In any case, it was evident the author had several, not very well hidden, agendas. One was that an appraisal of this historical event could do much to improve mutual understanding between Anglo and Latino residents of the Lone Star State. Perhaps.  The other was, by indirection, to bring to light the mind set of people like George W Bush. Thus the controversial nature of the book is brought to focus.
In the end the brouhaha is about politics. This is not helped by the fact that the book is very poorly written. It needed some serious editing and didn’t get it. There are pages and pages of redundancy and much hectoring. The author must assume his audience are all idiots. For this reason alone, I would not recommend buying this book. I would recommend obtaining it at your local library because it is interesting, that is if your interested in historical mythology. Then when you get annoyed with the poor writing, you won’t be tempted to burn it.
As to the politics, well, if this is where George W Bush and "bring em on" (especially in regard to his failed war policies in the Middle East) came from, I wish the myths of the Alamo had been debunked a long time ago. Imagine, if you will, Dwight D. Eisenhower or Abraham Lincoln saying something like that with thousands of dead and maimed soldiers lying on the battlefield.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Martian

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars.
Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there.

After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive.

 Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old "human error" are much more likely to kill him first.
But Mark isn't ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him

No doubt, yes, it will be enough to  allow him to beat the impossible odds. I mean, really we can't have an unhappy ending can we. I like survival stories and I really like the premise here…..and a survival story with an unusual setting.  But to a non technologically oriented history teacher the never ending scientific jargon and complicated explanations were more difficult for me to understand than the manuals I can't decipher when trying to put together something large,  I bought at a Big Box Store,  written but someone  who was not very conversant in the English language.  On the other hand if you like this sort of thing you’ll love The Martian….:)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Dog Master - A Novel of the First Dog

As regular readers of my little book blog (Troutbirder II) probably know, my reading tastes are fairly eclectic but leaning a little to history and biography.  My latest read ( a novel) perhaps leans way too far back in human history,  like maybe thirty thousand years to the upper Paleolithic period.  The reason for this stretch is quite simple…. My lifelong love for dogs.

Set against the most dramatic time in our species' history, The Dog Master tells the story of one tribe's struggle for survival and one extraordinary man's bond with a wolf - a friendship that changed mankind forever

Thirty thousand years ago, ice was storming the planet. Among the species forced out of the trees and onto the steppes by the advancing cold was modern man, who was both predator and prey.

No stranger to the experiences that make us human-a mother's love and a father's betrayal, tribal war and increasing famine, political intrigue and forbidden love, joy and hope and devastating loss-our ancestors competed for scant resources in a brutal landscape.

Mankind stood on the cold brink of extinction...but they had a unique advantage over other species, a new “technology” - domesticated wolves.

Only a set of extraordinary circumstances could have transformed one of these fierce creatures into a hunting companion, a bodyguard, a soldier, and a friend. The Dog Master by W. Bruce Cameron is an evocative glimpse of prehistory, an emotional coming of age saga, a thrilling tale of survival against all odds, and the exciting, imaginative story of the first dog.

  The story follows three timelines: the present day life of a professor who believes humans succeeded because of their early relationship with dogs, the early life of Mal's mother, and Mal's attempts to survive with a wolf he names Dog. The story opens with Mal struggling to survive on his own after being cast out of his tribe. He finds a wounded wolf with three puppies and they bond together in a cave. I was instantly hooked by this premise. Every chapter ended with a cliffhanger that propelled me through the book. I cared deeply about Mal's mother and both of her sons. She is intelligent and resourceful, my favorite type of character. The pre-history setting was fascinating, in part because everything is truly life or death. I also loved Clan of the Cave Bear, which I read some years ago. This book is better. I highly recommend  it. Even to people who prefer cats….:)

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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Wright Brothers

David McCullough, one of America's premier history authors,  has come up with another gem, the story of the famous but not well known Wright brothers.   A fascinating tale of family, ingenuity, competition, and even international intrigue.  I enjoyed it a lot....

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

Sometimes  in my regular reading habits I wander off into the classics.  It might have been a long time since I’d read a certain book.  Perhaps The Count of Monte Cristo.  Or an author whose work I’d passed by at a younger age. Think Jane Austin. Maybe a famous person of whom I’d read many biographies and history but wanted something in his or her own words.  Julius Caesars The Gallic Wars came to mind.  Then, quite recently,  I was scanning my ereader (Nook) for bargains and there was The Complete Sherlock Holmes for two dollars.  Not one to pass up a bargain, I took it.  Yes, I’d already read it in fulfillment of Mrs. Himmelbachs 12th grade English “outside reading” requirement. Was it as good as I fondly remembered all those years ago? I intended to find out…..

 From his first appearance in A Study in Scarlett , via his most famous adventures – The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Speckled Band – to his final appearances in the very short stories making up The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, his deductions never fail to bring a smile and that aha moment.

We see Victorian life brought to life in every story. Conan Doyle provides the clever villains & flustered clients flitting in and about  to create a portrait of fascinating characters. They are the heart and soul of each and every tale. And then most of all there is Holmes.    He is one of the most interesting characters ever written. It’s all there. The odd habits mixing with the brilliant deductions.  The quirky humor and single mindedness.   It  adds  up to a personality like none other and yet not fake nor seemingly contrived.   To top it off it’s all very well-written.    Elementary dear reader. Elementary.   I even remembered some of the "solutions" from long ago. Not too bad for a guy who can’t remember where he put his reading glasses half the time…...:)

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


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….:)


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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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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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Tuesday, March 3, 2015

One Good Dog

There is a genre of animal stories out there. Dogs, cats, horses, you know the routine. For my spouse it’s often cats like “Sneaky Pie Brown” from Rita Mae Browns, mystery series.  I was grew up loving Rin Tin Tin, Lassie and  later Marley from Marley and Me. More recently, knowing nothing about horses, I was enthralled by Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit.  You know where I’m coming from then.  Hurt, lonely, lost, and afraid. human and animal build trust, love and companionship and help each other survive and prosper. I don’t look for these stories. They just seem to find me like our rescue dog Lily did. She showed up hungry and abandoned at our friend’s dairy farm on Easter Sunday a year ago. When our friend passed on we took Lily the GSD into our home.
Ray (Troutbirder) & Lily

Or Chance, another dog in big trouble, who I found in One Good Dog by Susan Wilson, on the shelf of our local library.    Chance is a  mixed-breed pit bull who was trained to fight for the entertainment of cruel people.  When Chance escapes this miserable life and meets up with Adam a fascinating tale of struggle and redemption follows. Adam is an arrogant “high roller"  living the  good life until he snaps, hits his secretary and loses it all.   Adams job, wife, house are all gone in a flash. Adam is assigned “volunteer” work at a shelter for the indigent by a judge who is bent on teaching him to become “a better person.” Adam meets Chance and a homeless man with dementia at the shelter. The somewhat predictable plot follows.   Still you gotta cheer for the flawed man and feisty dog.
I was put off briefly by the dog narrating part of the story.  Mr. Ed, the talking horse of sixties TV, never appealed to me. But then this book began to work as I and Chance became better acquainted. Rescued animals, and rescued people can make for a very compelling story of second chances and unqualified loyalty and love.  I liked the book a lot... 

And as a side note I've been invited to join "The Book Review Club."   Sponsored by children's book author Barrie Summy  the first Wednesday of each month sees book reviews in both young adult and adult fiction and non- fiction genre.  Take a look......

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Monday, February 16, 2015

The Florist's Daughter by Patricia Hampl


I left this place (St. Paul) “a provincial capital of the middling sort” (in Gogol’s words), as a callow young teacher, never to return. Left it for a small rural crossroads, in Bluff Country, married there, raised a family and now live there in mostly contented retirement. Award winning author, Patricia Hampl, has remained in St. Paul all her life, rooted to the city of her birth in the “blameless middle” of America. Her latest memoir, The Florists Daughter, tells the intriguing story of her relationship with her parents, the city of her birth and her desire to escape it and them. It culminated with the realization, sitting by the bedside of her dying mother, as to why she chose to remain there all her life. The Florists Daughter was highly recommended to me by two dear friends. Partly, I'm sure, because there are many allusions to places I knew intimately, as a child growing up. For instance, as Hampl reflects on her life and the influences of parent and place on that life, she was sitting at the hospital beside her dying mother. It turns out to be the very hospital in which I was born.
I'm not very familiar with the genre "memoirs." So, perhaps, I was expecting a literary version of a "chick flick." Not to be. Hampl, who is a Professor of English Literature at my alma mater, the University of Minnesota, takes on far deeper issues. I suspect that is why the critics love her writing which also includes poetry and essays.
It's probably sacrilege to compare the fundamental premise of this book to a trashy novel like The Bridges of Madison County but it comes to mind. Francesca Johnson is a romantic stereotype of dreams and disillusionment. Patricia Hampl seems torn between two incompatible and unfathomable choices.  Yet both protagonists make the choice of what now are identified as "traditional values." Still, the Hampls  memoir is deeply rich into the self and human values.    That is surely  the difference between literature and trash. I liked this memoir a lot.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

One Million Steps by Bing West

In the tranquil atmosphere of Daydream Cottage, on the Nature Coast of Westcentral Florida, I got lots of reading done along with dog hiking and birding. The first book was a most interesting, inspiring and yet troubling book by Bing West on Americans longest war – Afghanistan……
Battalion 3/5 suffered the highest number of casualties in the war in Afghanistan. This is the story of one platoon in that distinguished battalion.
Every day brought a new skirmish. Each footfall might trigger an IED. Half the Marines in 3rd Platoon didn’t make it intact to the end of the tour. One Million Steps is the story of the fifty brave men who faced these grim odds and refused to back down. Based on Bing West’s embeds with 3rd Platoon, as well as on their handwritten log, this is a gripping grunt’s-eye view of life on the front lines of America’s longest war.   Each time a leader was struck down, another rose up to take his place. How does one man instill courage in another? What welded these men together as firmly as steel plates? 

West is at his best describing the tactical decisions of small-unit leaders. The opening chapters give a heart-pounding portrayal of the battalion’s brutal first month. . . . What makes these Marines so impressive is not that they are superhumans for whom danger and exhaustion are their natural habitat and killing a joy, but very young men for whom the prospect of walking 2.6 miles a day for six months over IED-riddled ground is no more appealing than it would be for anyone

Yet "One Million Steps," even as it focuses on the relentlessness of the Marines in Sangin, also offers a blistering assault on America's senior military leadership for purportedly adopting a new counterinsurgency approach that Mr. West depicts as a "quixotic strategy of a benevolent war," one that "replaced war with social evangelism" and is more "an exercise in civics" than a type of military strategy
Lambasting military leaders for turning American warriors into "community organizers" is attention-grabbing, but it isn't convincing. Neither the 2006 Counterinsurgency Field Manual, written by Gen. Petraeus and Gen. James Amos, nor an assessment of the COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan square with Mr. West's take. The two generals assert in the manual's preface that a "counterinsurgency campaign is . . . a mix of offensive, defensive, and stability operations," which hardly sounds like "an exercise in civics." Moreover, Gen. Petraeus's September 2007 report to Congress on the Iraq surge doesn't focus on schools but on "significant blows to Al Qaeda-Iraq.

In the end I’d rate the book A as a revelation of the what the war was like for our young Marines. And a D for strategy analysis.  Which seems about right considering how the Iraq conflict was botched from unnecessary beginning to end and The Afghan one wasn’t much better after it switched from rooting out the terrorists to “nation building.”  in tribal, ethnically and religiously divided place on the map.  What a disaster….