Sunday, December 21, 2014


Leaving today for points east and south. Going to visit family and drive many miles. I love a road trip. I am going to hang out with real people and give the internet a break. Well, not entirely. I will have a device or two with me. 

If you like music, here are links to my CDs of original music recorded a while back. You can listen to any of the songs for free, you can download tunes or full CDs, or you can buy them. Happy listening!

I will be back in January with the Favorite Books Read in 2014 post and more reviews.

Thanks for visiting and reading and commenting!

Friday, December 19, 2014


The Children Act, Ian McEwan, Nan A Talese, 2014, 240 pp

I liked this novel more than I expected to. It is about family, marriage, children, religion and the law. The title refers to a bit of English law: "When a court determines any question with respect to...the upbringing of a child...the child's welfare shall be the court's paramount consideration."

This piece of legislation from 1989 is a giant step towards civilization from the climate of British legal views on children in the days when Charles Dickens grew up. I kept finding myself thinking of Oliver Twist and David Copperfield as I read.

But the child in question here is only months away from turning 18. Because he was raised and protected from the world by devout Jehovah's Witnesses, he has a childlike view of life and the world. He is dying of a disease (was it leukemia? I don't recall) and could possibly be saved by a blood transfusion but his parents will not allow it as that would violate their religious beliefs. 

Fiona Maye, a middle aged, childless High Court judge in family court holds the power to decide what has become a legal battle between the parents and the hospital where the boy lies dying. Concurrent with the progression of the case is a horrific problem in Fiona's marriage.

In almost perfect prose with impeccable timing, the drama plays out. Each character is poised on some brink where passions and disappointments in life meet the person's capacity for making good and sensible judgements. Or you could call it an inner battle of maturity meets childishness. 

Of course, no one really ever wins in such battles. Life is not that simple and is in fact messy. Turning 18 or even 60 is no guarantee of maturity. McEwan keeps the reader captive on these brinks he created which makes for an incredibly good read. He does not judge, even while every character makes judgements and thus we see ourselves and others with increased empathy.

I read this for one of my reading groups and we had one of our best discussions ever.

(The Children Act is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Death Comes to Pemberley, P D James, Alfred A Knopf, 2012, 291 pp

I have previously read three books by P D James: her first, Cover Her Face, 1962; The Lighthouse, next to last of the Inspector Adam Dalgliesh books, 2005; and the stand alone Children of Men, 1992. 

I liked best the one that got low stars and tepid reviews: Children of Men. In her mysteries she is too sedate and slow moving for me. Children of Men had zing.

When one of my reading groups chose Death Comes to Pemberley, I was rightfully concerned. I don't much enjoy Jane Austen either. Ms James' book is written as a sequel to Pride and Prejudice with a murder mystery for the plot. I anticipated a dreadfully boring read and that is what it was for me. Exactly half of the reading group felt as I did and the other half loved it. There was no middle ground.

I think for Jane Austen/Pride and Prejudice geeks the book would be perfect. The two authors would certainly have been besties had they lived in the same era.

Ten days after I finished reading Death Comes to Penderley death came to P D James. I feel a bit mean now for hating her book. I admire her for a long successful career and for her contributions to the playing field of female mystery writers.

(Death Comes to Pemberley is available in paperback on the mystery shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Sunday, December 14, 2014


The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion, Simon & Schuster, 2013, 320 pp

I read this for a reading group that I did not attend, but since I had intended to go and started the book with not much time to read, I read it super fast. Fortunately it was that kind of book and I did not dislike it particularly. But it is characterized by that light, slightly humorous writing found in TV shows, so not much of it remains in my memory.

A guy who is some type of heavy scientist residing somewhere on the asperger/autism spectrum is in want of a wife. He devises a project to find one who will match with his peculiarities and instead finds Rosie. He and Rosie run through the obligatory romantic comedy tropes.

It is all very endearing and witty and brings a few new aspects to the nerdy guy meets hot girl story. Being set in Australia, I was constantly having to readjust my internal GPS because the novel seemed so American in most ways.

Nice comfort read but it won't change your life. You already know this story.

(The Rosie Project is available in hardcover and paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, December 12, 2014


An Unfinished Life: John F Kennedy, Robert Dallek, Little Brown and Company, 2003, 711 pp

I have now completed the third biography on my list of US Presidents who have been in office during my lifetime: Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. It appears that to be taken seriously a presidential biography must be a door-stopper no matter how long their lives or how many terms they served. John F Kennedy only lived for 46 years and only held the Presidency for 1000 days but he still got 711 pages of text from Robert Dallek.

This reading about presidents' lives is probably the most difficult of my various reading projects but also hugely satisfying in terms of an overview of American federal government and politics. Who they were and how they became presidents is a mirror on American life. But the main idea I have come to is that the news media gives us a distinctly skewed view of our presidents and the disconnect between who they really are and what they have to deal with as the leaders of our country compared to what we are told about that while it is happening only grows wider as the news media keeps up with technological changes over the years.

Despite huge swaths of boring day by day depictions of JFK's nomination and election campaigns as well as the major crises he faced during his term, I learned much more about the man than I was ever taught in school. I gained an understanding of why he was and continues to be so revered. He was THE man for the times in 1960; young, handsome, intelligent, and forward looking. He was also a consummate politician with an inborn sense of how to advance his career, complemented by what he learned from his father. He was far more ill for his entire life than was publicly known. Medicated to his eyeballs much of the time, his health was a risk and a big long story covered fully in Dallek's book.

Though I suspect the author down pedaled it to a large degree, Kennedy was an unrepentant and continuous womanizer. As a teenager I was infatuated with the romance between Jack and Jackie. In An Unfinished Life, Jackie only gets about 20 pages, so now I will need to read some books that give more of her side of the story. I was left feeling it was all a political show.

I wonder if I could have or should have read a different Kennedy biography. Robert Dallek's dull and pedestrian writing style certainly did not match his flamboyant subject.

(An Unfinished Life is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


The Madonnas of Echo Park, Brando Skyhorse, Free Press, 2010, 199 pp

Brief news flash: Both of my cataract surgeries are now complete. I can see everything without glasses! Well, except for small print close up in poorly lit places, for which I use those reading glasses you can buy at pharmacies. I am so happy!

Now onto my review. Except for a trip on the week of Christmas, I shall be posting regularly again. Thank you for your patience.

My hand-crafted, boutique, and very special Tiny Book Group is on a project to read books set in Los Angeles. All three of us are from elsewhere, having come to LA in middle age. Echo Park is a Los Angeles neighborhood that began as a Mexican ghetto and has lately succumbed to gentrification. Brando Skyhorse grew up in Echo Park in the 1980s.

His truly wonderful novel is a successful example of a novel written as a series of collected stories featuring characters who appear again and again. By the end you know how they are connected through family and events.

"We slipped into this country like thieves, onto the land that once was ours." There is so much history in that opening sentence. It took my breath away. But history is the last thing on the minds of Skyhorse's characters. Their minds are crowded with fears of deportation, struggles to learn English, make a living, and assimilate.

Every living American today, except for Native Americans, is an immigrant or a descendant of immigrants. I wonder how many immigrant novels have been written here. Brando Skyhorse (descended from Mexicans but raised to think that his Native American step-father was his biological father) took this often told story and made it pulse with sights, smells, tastes, loves, deaths, and the infinite variety of human longings.

The Tiny Book Group met in Echo Park to discuss the book. We ate lunch at Xoia Vietnamese Eats.
We got pastries at Masa of Echo Park Bakery & Cafe.
We strolled to Echo Park Lake to eat our treats,
then to Stories Books to choose our next read.
All the while we talked about the book and wondered, "Where have all the Mexicans gone?"

Part of the answer can be found in this video, but most of the answers have been encapsulated in The Madonnas of Echo Park.

One more thing: reading and learning about the incident that inspired the book's title was a little piece of literary magic.

(The Madonnas of Echo Park is available by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2014



Two weeks after cataract surgery on the right eye and I have almost 20/20 vision for distance. My eyes don't look like the above image which I copied from Google. My eyes look more like Margaret Atwood's or Jane Smiley's or Hilary Clinton's. These are all eyes that have seen a lot, as have mine, eyes that have read millions of words. 
I've been stumbling around without my glasses because they don't work for me anymore. My left eye also has a cataract and is extremely near-sighted. Cooking for Thanksgiving was a challenge but I managed not to cut off any fingers by wearing my glasses with the right lens covered in duct tape. It has been quite an adventure. I can drive in the daytime and see better than I have in years. At night I need mild sunglasses to cut down on the glare from headlights, street lights, etc. Last night in the rain was truly scary but luckily I was only a few blocks from home.

But I can read! And I have been reading. As you can see I managed to post one review here but it was so stressful looking from my handwritten review to the computer screen, even with reading glasses, that I haven't done another.

Monday I got the good news that my second surgery will be this coming Monday! By next Tuesday morning I should be able to see distance in the right eye, middle (computer) distance in the left. Might need reading glasses for close distance like reading books or iBooks. I should be able to see better than I have for decades. No more progressive lenses, no more glasses for everyday tasks. Thanks to modern medicine, my wonderful ophthalmologist/surgeon and her team of technicians, eye drops, and my adoring husband who drives me to surgery and check ups. Thanks to Medicare. 

But OMG my eyes were nicely hidden behind glasses and I could not really see what they looked like. Life is quite a joke sometimes. Yesterday I spent money on new eye cream and face cream. I gave myself a mud pack facial. Face it, Judy. You are not young anymore.

Still I can read, I can drive, I can go to Texas and see my grandchildren for Christmas. I can come home in the New Year and hopefully read more books than ever. Maybe I can even post a couple more reviews before the year is over.

Thanks for your patience!