Friday, August 18, 2017


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News of the World, Paulette Jiles, William Morrow, 2016, 209 pp

I loved this book! It is historical fiction set in Texas during the years after the Civil War. In my last review I mentioned prevailing themes. This one also falls in the Girls Gone Grit theme, but another one is developing. I will just call it Tales of Texas.

The characters in this novel are outlandish, of course, because it is Texas but they became so real to me, I felt I could reach into the book and touch them. The grit girl is Johanna Leonberger who was captured by a band of Kiowa Indian raiders after they slaughtered her parents and sisters. She was raised as a Kiowa child from the age of six. Now she is 10 and has been recovered by the United States Army.

Apparently this was a common occurrence in frontier areas. In fact, one of the main characters in The Son, by Philip Meyer, a difficult novel set in Texas that I read a few years ago, was such a person. News of the World is, in part, a story of the psychological effect of this trauma, capture, becoming Native American, and then the culture shock of returning to the White settler life.

Captain Kidd is an aging widower, veteran of three wars, who has become a drifter traveling north and south through central Texas. He gives readings from newspapers for which he charges his listeners. In remote towns where newspapers often do not penetrate and where the inhabitants are barely literate, his audiences gather and pay their dime, hungry for news of the world. 

One day, in Wichita Falls, Texas, near the southern border of what was still Indian Territory but is now Oklahoma, he is offered a sizable sum to deliver Johanna to her people near San Antonio, four hundred miles away. He accepts the task.

Most of the story follows their arduous journey. Somehow Captain Kidd must keep making money from his readings, care for a little girl who is wild, speaks no English, won't wear shoes, and gets wigged out if she has to be indoors for any length of time. Despite all the dangers, lawlessness, thieves, and a dastardly trio of cutthroats who are trying to get Johanna back, they make it.

By the time they reach San Antonio, Johanna can speak English, count money, and has consented to wear a dress and shoes, sometimes. Her Native American skills have also saved their lives a couple times! She and the Captain forge a bond that is a wondrous development to read about.

The real challenge however, one of both the mind and the heart of each of them, comes at the end of their odyssey. I won't spoil that for you except to say that the Captain is a proper hero and Johanna a kick ass heroine.

(News of the World is available in paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


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She Rides Shotgun, Jordan Harper, Ecco/HarperCollins, 2017, 257 pp

You know how your reading seems to fall into themes or common subject matter sometimes? It is so mysterious and esoteric to me how that happens. This is the second book in a week that falls in the theme I will name "Girls Gone Gritty" or possibly "When Bad Things Happen To Good Girls." Which do you think is best? I like the first one.

Darcey Steinke's Sister Golden Hair was the first of these, but 11-year-old Polly McCluskey of She Rides Shotgun has it much worse. She walks out of middle-school one afternoon to find her father, who has been in prison since she was six; tattooed, head shaved, washed-out blue gunfighter eyes. He orders her into his car and though she is scared, has the urge to run and scream for help, she gets in. "What else could I ever do?" she thinks.

Within a couple weeks with him she learns that her mother and step-father have been murdered, she learns how to be tough and how to fight, and she is pretty sure her father is protecting her. The chapters alternate between Polly's viewpoint and that of ex-convict Nate McCluskey.

This is a crime thriller and it moves along so fast that you are amazed at how much of the backstory you have learned while it seemed you were only reading one action sequence after another. In order to get out of prison, Nate made himself the target of a dangerous gang. There is a bounty on his head that includes his ex-wife and Polly. The gang has members inside and outside of prison with connections to drugs, robbery, and all manner of violence. Nate figures he is smart enough to protect Polly but he has to stay alive to do so.

The story is set in and around Los Angeles. I know my city is no exception when it comes to crime but I didn't know there was a depot for illegal drugs right in my own suburb. I still wish I didn't know that. But this was the most exciting book I have read in a long time, much better even than almost any movie.

The relationship that develops between Polly and her dad is what kept me going emotionally. She becomes an amazingly brave and loyal girl in just a few months. I wouldn't want to undergo what she did, but what female wouldn't want to be as equipped to take care of herself?

I don't recommend She Rides Shotgun to sensitive readers. It is guaranteed to upset them. But, as the front cover flap summary says, the book "is a propulsive, gritty, and emotionally gripping novel that upends even our most long-held expectations about heroes, villains, and victims." If you can stomach Game of Thrones, you can get through this one.

Monday, August 14, 2017


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Death and the Joyful Woman, Ellis Peters, Mysterious Press, 1961, 196 pp

This mystery is the sequel to Fallen Into the Pit, which I read a few weeks ago as the first in the series. Death and the Joyful Woman won the Edgar Award in 1963. The title gave me a certain mental picture of a gleeful female murderer, but in fact The Joyful Woman is the name of a pub in the Welsh town where Inspector George Felse lives and solves crimes.

Either because I was now familiar with the scene or because Ms Peters got better at writing mystery (probably both) I enjoyed this one more than Fallen Into the Pit. 

Inspector Felse is still the Inspector for the local police department and his son Dominic still runs around doing his own detecting, mostly behind his father's back. (I wonder if the entire series of 13 books will continue with that arrangement.) Thus Dominic is the one who discovers the murderer of the unpopular millionaire in town who owned The Joyful Woman.

The boy is now 14 years old and has developed a private crush on a 20-something beautiful woman. When she is charged with the murder, Dominic does not rest and in fact puts himself into extreme danger while following his hunches.

I was impressed by the way the author handled the dynamics of families in the story and the mystery was just convoluted enough to keep me guessing. I was waiting to read this one before deciding if I would continue with the series. I must thank the Mystery Writers of America organization for their long running award, named after Edgar Allen Poe of course, and for introducing me to a mystery writer worth following. I have decided that Dominic Felse is a lot like the reckless, daring side of V I Warshaswki in Sara Paretsky's series. After just two books, I am hooked.  

(Death and the Joyful Woman is available in paperback but hard to get in that format. It is also available as an eBook from Open Road Media.) 

Saturday, August 12, 2017


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Sister Golden Hair, Darcey Steinke, Tin House Books, 2014, 333 pp

The story in this novel falls outside the mainstream usual narrative we get in popular fiction about the lives of girls. While I find much to enjoy in some of the popular fiction I read, I don't often find myself, so I tend to gravitate towards a book like Sister Golden Hair.

In 1972, Jesse is 12 years old when her family moves to Roanoke, Virginia. Her father had been a Methodist minister who was an early adopter of long hair, folk music played in the church service, Gestalt workshops for parishioners, and Vietnam protests. He even "married" a gay couple. After the clergy trial, he was defrocked and began moving his family once a year as he studied history, science and psychology, while holding down semi-menial jobs. The family was told they would figure out their own relationship to God.

Jesse misses her formerly close relationship to both her dad and God. When no new understanding is forthcoming, she turns to neighbors and school friends in their downscale Roanoke neighborhood for clues. Since that is what most adolescents do anyway, the novel is a microcosm of both a decade in American life and of the ways some of us go outside our family narrative as teens.

You fear for Jesse because she is so innocent. She goes through experiences no mother wants her teenage daughter to go through. The parental units are not actually paying much attention and by the end of the novel, I wondered if that might not have worked out in her favor. She had a freedom of sorts but she also did have a home to go back to every evening; clothing, food and shelter were provided. While her mother was focused on finding her dream house, her dad came and found Jesse both times she ran away.

Many of my friends and I had a much closer watch kept on us in high school and had to venture into the unknown after we were away at college or married or working. Who's to say which is worse, which is better. In the end, Jesse follows her best friend but she is still only 16. You are left to contemplate how that is going to work out for her. 

Darcey Steinke was raised with religion and as far as I can tell has spent her writing career working out the areas where religion meets the so-called real world. Sister Golden Hair is her latest novel and I want to read her earlier books. Some of them look even more gritty than this one but I think she is on to something, as were a few other of my admired female authors: Simone de Beauvoir, Mary McCarthy, Joyce Carol Oates, etc. She seems to be the literary descendant of those women. Religion, women, and middle-class white society are a potent brew of belief, confusion, disruption and a life-long search for what it is all supposed to mean.

I loved Jesse with ferocity. I read her story in one feverish hot summer day. It was my seventh female authored book in a row in July. I felt like I had been to a special summer camp.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017


Today I was eating lunch and into my head popped a thought: I wonder how long I have kept my blog going? It seemed like I started it one summer. Well, I was close. I started this blog on July 1, 2005. So I missed the actual day by 1 month and 9 days. Welcome to my 12th Blogiversary!!

Some people would tell you that I am persistent. Others would tell you that I am really good at getting out of things I don't want to do. In this case, it appears that persistence has won out. When I was looking for images I was struck by how many there were for a 1 year blogiversay, quite a few for 2 years and then it just goes general. Apparently there is a high drop out rate. The image I picked has 27 candles. I know, optimistic aren't I.

Another thing I noticed was links to articles about what people learned from blogging. I will not bore you with one of those. I am also not doing a give-away because I give all my no longer wanted books to Little Libraries and at reading group book exchanges during our holiday parties. Instead I will give you my innocent, somewhat funny and for me hugely nostalgic first post:

Maiden Voyage to Blogdom  Friday, July 1, 2005

Whew! I made it. I have arrived in the universe of blogs. A little bleary eyed, a little shy. Will I be cool enough to be a blogger? Made it through blogging for dummies thanks to Everything is new and subject to change, but I have a mini profile and a blog name. Still have to learn how to get anyone to come and read the thing and how to do links and all that stuff.

Anyway, welcome to my blog. It will be mostly about books that I am reading, have read or want to read. Today I am reading The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. So far it is wonderful. It is obviously written either by or in the voice of a fairly young man. That is fine because I like young men. It takes place in Barcelona, Spain, which is where my lovely artist niece just spent a semester. Her name is Elizabeth and she designed the cover for my latest CD, but I digress.

I am also in the middle of The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles, a sad and somewhat disturbing book. I will finish it but first I have to finish the above book for a reading group meeting on Tuesday night.

OK, this is just a short post to get the blog rolling. More to come soon. 
1544 posts later, I thank you all for reading, following, or just lurking. I hope you have enjoyed yourselves. I hope you will keep coming. I know that blogs aren't cool anymore but I just don't feel like starting a podcast. As long as we don't blow up the world or run out of electricity due to climate change or some other more horrendous disaster, I might as well keep going.
My purpose is to celebrate reading. Yes, let's celebrate that!! If you still drink, raise a glass to Keep The Wisdom, to book bloggers and to reading books. If you don't, put something else in the glass and raise that. All of us readers are the greatest, smartest people in the world!!!

Monday, August 07, 2017


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Ways To Disappear, Idra Novey, Little Brown and Company, 2016, 258 pp

This little novel was a pleasant surprise. I read it because Idra Novey is a translator of books from Spanish and Portuguese into English and I had read that the story involves a translator. That turns out to be Emma, the main character.

The tale opens with the disappearance of Emma's Brazilian author, Beatriz Yogoda. This author wrote stunning novels but was a bad mother, addicted to gambling. Her debts have caught up with her and an unsavory moneylender is after her.

Beatriz climbed into an almond tree carrying a suitcase, smoking a cigar, and vanished. I loved her already. This makes two books in a row about a vanished, missing person and Emma's quest to find her requires courage she doesn't have, just as Meg's search for her father did in A Wrinkle in Time

Emma lives in Pittsburgh with a boring boyfriend who wants to marry her. In truth, she is rather spiritually married to the eccentric and imaginative Beatriz, whose novels she has been translating for a few years. Nor does Emma have any supernatural beings to help her though there is Beatriz's washed up editor, a man with deep pockets and deep regrets that his publishing house must put out only bestseller trash to remain solvent.

For the sexy parts, we have Beatriz's hot and sensual son who seduces Emma as he helps her look for the vanished author in hot steamy Rio de Janeiro. The story reads like a noir thriller but has those insider publishing/translating sections. It is also hilarious despite all the danger surrounding Emma's desperate search. The writing is brilliant. The ending is perfect. 

(Ways To Disappear is available in hardcover or paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)  

Friday, August 04, 2017


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A Wrinkle In Time, Madeleine L'Engle, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 1962, 203 pp

This classic won the Newbery Award in 1963. I just read it for the third time and discovered new layers to the story. 

In 1994, I wrote in my reading journal: "Three children travel through time and the universe to rescue their father by overcoming evil with love." A slight inaccuracy there is that he was the father of only two of the children, the third one being a friend of the kids. 

In 2010, I wrote about the Christian influence being much lighter than that in the Narnia books by C S Lewis and about how Meg, the daughter, was a fine female character right up there with Lara from The Golden Compass. I found both the parents and the children to be more true to life than those in many other Newbery winning books from earlier years.

Each time I read the book, I was enchanted by Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Whosit, and Mrs Which. Who can resist the younger brother Charles Wallace? This time I recognized him as a kid somewhere on the Autism spectrum. Also I was suddenly aware that the father had been involved in the Manhattan Project and the science behind the atom bomb. I can only assume that my reading over the past several years, including both the President Truman and the Oppenheimer biographies, gave me enough knowledge to recognize this as a concern and a manifestation of evil in 1962! And then there is the tesseract!!

I have read and loved four of L'Engle's early novels written for adults. (The Small Rain, A Winter's Love, And Both Were Young, and Camilla.) Her writing for children loses something that is especially wonderful in those novels, though some of that remains. A Wrinkle In Time saved her writing career, dying due to low sales. Even so, this children's novel requires a high reading level for 8-12 year olds.

I hadn't realized that there is a Wrinkle In Time series. I have four more books to look forward to. Then there is the movie coming out next March! 

(A Wrinkle In Time is available in paperback on the shelves at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)