Friday, June 29, 2018


Convention, Fletcher Knebel and Charles W Bailey II, Harper & Row, 1964, 343 pp
This political novel was #10 on the 1964 bestseller list. It is a fictional story of what is said to be the 30th Republican National Convention. In real life, the 30th Convention was in 1972 when Richard Nixon was nominated to run for a second term as POTUS.
In the novel, the year is not stated. The top two contenders for the nomination are the Governor of California and the Secretary of the Treasury, who was the current (fictional) President's stated choice. The polarizing issue was nuclear weapons. The Treasury Secretary was also the predicted winner but after he makes an unwise statement in the early days of the convention, his lead shrinks to almost nothing. Who will win?

These political novels with fictional politicians make me a bit crazy because I cannot stop trying to make them fit with history. I read an earlier bestseller by these authors (Seven Days in May, 1962), about a fictional attempted military coup written during the first year of the Kennedy administration. I have read Fail-Safe as well as Allen Drury's Advise and Consent. The most recent was The Man by Irving Wallace, read just ten days before I read Convention.

I suppose they are worthwhile reads as examples of what could happen. On the whole, I feel much more comfortable reading actual Presidential biographies, each one of which necessarily includes at least one National Convention.

From Convention I learned more than I knew before about what it is like on the convention floor and what the delegates actually do. But there were also plenty of scenes in smoke-filled rooms and the shenanigans connected with the press.

Knebel and Bailey have been mocked as bad writers but they were both respected political journalists who knew the scene. The writing is fast-paced, the characters are believable rather than cliches, and they know how to build and plot a story. Plus, it is women who save the day!

In any case, I am now finished with the bestseller list for 1964! I will try to write a post soon about my thoughts on the list as a whole and how it reflects life in that year.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


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Circe, Madeline Miller, Little Brown and Company, 2018, 385 pp
I was not a big fan of Madeline Miller's first novel, The Song of Achilles. I felt the narrative voice was too feminine for such a male centric tale, based on The Iliad. In Circe, she has totally redeemed herself in my eyes.
I was glad I saved Circe until I had read The Odyssey. In fact, it was just two weeks ago when I finished it. I was still in that world in my heart and mind, so I knew about as much as anyone who is not a Greek scholar about ancient Greece, the heroes and the gods. 
Miller provides an extensive list of characters both divine and mortal at the back of the book and I used it often. In fact, I finally got a grip on the difference between the Titans and the Olympians, something I was always confused about when I tried to read Greek myths.

My preparation paid off. I loved the book! Circe as a character was deep, deeply disturbed, but kick ass as all get out. The book just flew by for me with nary a boring moment. 

Odysseus was there but only as an almost minor character. He may have lived for thousands of years as a hero in our minds, thanks to Homer, but he was after all a mortal. In truth he lived a short span of years compared to Circe who was after all immortal. Interesting thoughts about lifespans and immortality, about how tales and religion can confer immortality even on humans.

One thing I loved was how well she captured the Greek conception of their deities. She was also good at that in The Song of Achilles. Their extreme dysfunction is in such contrast with modern day sensibilities about our Gods. It is almost as if the Greek gods and goddesses get away with what humans wish they could. And they never feel guilty!

Circe then, comes across as almost an outlier whose sympathies and interactions with humans becomes a sort of redemption. Very clever and provocative ideas are at work in this novel.

Circe will definitely be on my Top 25 list for 2018.

(Circe is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018


This Rough Magic, Mary Stewart, William Morrow, 1964, 254 pp
I am not generally a reader of romance novels but romance has been popping up often in my reading lately. With Mary Stewart, at least in the six of her novels I have read so far, romance is guaranteed along with a mystery that her heroine just happens to fall into. Improbable heroic and dangerous acts in the vein of James Bond are also expected.
This Rough Magic, at #9 on the 1964 bestseller list, is rife with all of the above. It is set in contemporary 1960s Greece where the Trojan War and the journey of Odysseus are ancient history but where communism just across the border in Albania and the unpredictable Greek character, never ancient, combine to make two deaths in as many days look suspicious.

Lucy Waring, a minor actress from London, comes to Corfu to visit her very pregnant sister, wife of a stupendously wealthy Italian. She has come for a break and to provide company for her sister while the husband is away on business. I don't remember how the Italian came to own a castle as well as a villa on the island, but the castle is currently rented to Sir Julian Gale, a famous Shakespearean actor from the London stage, who is recovering from a mysterious illness.

Sir Julian has a bad tempered but handsome son, Max, living with him. Do you see where this is going? I sure did. Have I mentioned there is also a dolphin in the story? Well, there is. Lucy and Max fall in love while rescuing the dolphin who gets blown onto the beach in a storm and can't get back to the water.

To top it all off, Sir Julian is fond of reciting lines from The Tempest and even has a theory about Corfu being the setting for the play. Hence the title.

It was in truth a fun read as are all of Mary Stewart's books. Max and Lucy solve both crimes.

Sunday, June 24, 2018


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Fallout, Sara Paretsky, William Morrow, 2017, 433 pp
Once again Sara Paretsky gave me excellent value for my reading time. Once again I have read her latest book and now have to wait until her newest one comes out later this year.
I feel like I know her Private Investigator V I Warshawski so well. Almost as well as any longtime friend of mine. There is a lot to be said for following a character through three decades and 17 books, but especially such a complex, competent and fiery character as this one.

In Fallout, V I leaves Chicago for Kansas, on the trail of two missing persons, a vanished film student and a former Hollywood star, both of whom happen to be Black. She runs into plenty of Middle American racism but also long buried secrets. The fields are dotted with abandoned nuclear missile silos from the Cold War and wafts of biological warfare research are blowing through the prairies.

Although Vic has brought one of her dogs along, she is as alone as she has ever been without friends or even acquaintances. When she realizes certain government agencies are tracking her movements through her cell phone and laptop, she is forced to practice detecting by dead reckoning. 

Fallout is one of her most exciting books yet.

(Fallout is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, June 22, 2018


The Man, Irving Wallace, Simon and Schuster, 1964, 766 pp
What an interesting book! It was #5 on the 1964 bestseller list and is an alternate history political novel.

The time is a bit in the future for 1964, post JFK and LBJ, when an unexpected accident kills the current fictional POTUS. The Vice President had died 10 days earlier of a massive coronary. The Speaker of the House died in the same accident that killed the President. So, according to the Presidential Succession Act of 1947, the next in line for President was President Pro Tempore of the Senate. 

That is how America got its first (fictional) Black President. Senator Douglass Dilman was a second term senator and a well educated lawyer. While he felt insecure and anxious about assuming the office (and well he should have) he was not an ignorant weak man. But the next in the line of succession was the slick, urbane Secretary of State who wanted the Presidency more than anything.

I have read earlier bestsellers by Irving Wallace (The Chapman Report, 1960, and The Prize, 1962) and while he wrote page turners for sure, I disliked his overly wordy style and his reliance on sleazy detail. These traits are still in abundance in The Man, but his wise and informed explication of racism in American society is almost as good as James Baldwin.

Amidst the dangers of Cold War Russian provocation, radical and violent Black activists, an unscrupulous politician after his job and deeply sorrowful family troubles, Douglass Dilman gets a grip and does his best for the country. Still he is impeached by the political persons who are against him in the House and the Senate.

The story of how he prevails is a stunner. As I read, I got more insight than ever into what Barack Obama faced while in office. A worthwhile and entertaining read that has relevance today.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


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Audacity, Melanie Crowder, Philomel Books, 2015, 366 pp
Although any reading group has its downsides and upsides, one of the benefits is reading a great book I might never have found on my own. Audacity was a reading group pick and an example of such a boon.
It was shelved in the library as Young Adult. While I think it would make good reading for any teen, it is also a fine adult book. It is written in lovely free verse but it reads like prose.

Clara Lemlich was a real person whose life is fictionalized in Audacity. She was born in the late 1800s on the outskirts of a shetl in the Russian Empire. Her father was an orthodox scholar, meaning he spent his life in study while Clara's mother bore six children and ran a grocery store to support the family. Even in such an arrangement of roles, father's word was law. I asked the Jewish members of my reading group if this still goes on today and they told me it does in some orthodox families.

A pogrom in 1903 led Clara's family to emigrate to New York City. Yes, they were immigrants but they had papers so after a long journey with a wait in England, they passed through Ellis Island and began to live and work in the United States. Father continued with his studies, Mother knew no English so took in piece work at home, leaving Clara to go to work in a Lower East Side garment shop. 

It was a sweatshop complete with dangerous working conditions, terrible pay, no protection from sexual harassment, and no job security. Being a willful and determined girl, Clara had managed to learn to read Hebrew and Russian despite her father. She also learned math and in America, once she found the New York Public library, she learned English. 

Her feelings about injustice after living with the persecution of Jews in Russia was strong. It is no wonder she became a union organizer in New York at the tender age of 18. When she was fired for striking, she convinced her father to get a job.

Clara kept working in the garment shops whenever she could find a position, she was jailed and beaten for striking, and she continued to study. Her dream was to become a doctor, though she eventually turned down a scholarship to medical school in order to continue her union organizing.

She was not an employee at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory but the fire there that took the lives of nearly half its workers was a catalyst for change. Thanks to Clara and many other women's efforts, they had raised enough awareness so that after the fire, laws were finally passed regulating working conditions in the city. Clara married and had children but she worked for social justice until the end of her life.

I knew a little about these historical developments but had not heard of Clara Lemlich. Seeing it through her eyes brought home to me how tough it all really was.

Great inspirational read.

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

Wednesday, June 20, 2018


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Remarkable Creatures, Tracy Chevalier, Dutton, 2010, 310 pp
This was my May selection for my 12 Books To Read From My TBR Lists challenge. It was so great! I was inspired to read it after I finished The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. Remarkable Creatures is a fictionalized account of Mary Anning, one of the world's first women to make advances in the study of fossils.
Many factors combine to make this such a good historical novel, not the least of which is Tracy Chevalier's writing. The setting on England's windswept coast of the English Channel, the symbolically rocky friendship between Mary and middle-class spinster Elizabeth Philpot, the conflicts between science and religion, as well as between men and women, and the exciting advances made in science during the early 1800s.
Mary was poor and uneducated but gifted when it came to spotting fossils. She discovered a formerly unknown species from ancient times resulting in a shake-up in the scientific community and the usual attempts of men to take credit for and undermine the work of a female.
The book is a great testament to independent women, female friendship, smart women, and the ways that driven, talented, stubborn women can overcome misogyny. Of course, the price paid is terrible but sure makes for great tales! 

(Remarkable Creatures is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Monday, June 18, 2018


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The Light of Day, Eric Ambler, Alfred A Knopf, 1962, 219 pp
Eric Ambler published his first book, The Dark Frontier, in 1936. That date falls outside of My Big Fat Reading Project (begins in 1940) and somehow I had never heard of him until I was already reading my list for 1959, when I read Passage of Arms. I have got some books to fill in but for now I am just reading the books he published since 1959. This one was published in 1962 but since it won the Edgar Award in 1964, I saved it until now.
The award may have been given in 1964 because the movie Topkapi, based on The Light of Day, was released in that year. Peter Ustinov won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in his role as Arthur Simpson, the main character in the book.

Arthur Simpson is English/Egyptian, living a life of crime in Greece. He has been scamming his way through life as a pimp, pornographer, and petty thief. At the beginning of the book he has fallen into deep trouble involving British spies plus criminals on a much higher scale than he, and to save his skin he agrees to become an agent for the British secret service. 

It is a great adventure tale in which a basically cowardly man finds himself part of a major jewel heist. To maintain his cover he must perform dangerous feats in Istanbul's ancient Topkapi palace, all the while knowing that the British are completely following the wrong people. 

I think I saw the movie once and found it ridiculous, but now that I have read the book and know what was really going on, I am going to watch it again. (Netflix has it on DVD.) Ambler was a forerunner of John le Carre, a contemporary of Graham Greene, but puts a spin on the spy genre that is all his own.

Ian Fleming of the James Bond books also fits into this genre. Reading all these different authors of Cold War spy fiction written in the early years of that era has given me a look into British intelligence during those times. One of these days I will figure out how the CIA fit into the picture then. 

Does anyone know of novels about American spies during the Cold War that were written and published in the 1960s? Suggestions welcome.

(The Light of Day is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Saturday, June 16, 2018


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The Odyssey, Homer, translated by Emily Wilson, W W Norton & Company, 2018, 577 pp
Big reading goal accomplished! I read The Iliad ten years ago as translated by W H D Rouse. I always intended to read The Odyssey but had been so bored with The Iliad, I could not bring myself to start. I even researched for a better translation and bought a Penguin Classic edition of one supposed to be written in prose instead of verse but never read a page. This this year Emily Wilson published a new translation, lauded as the most accessible one ever.
I forked over $40 for the hardcover and began. The Introduction and Translator's Note plus four excellent maps of the world of The Odyssey went for 100 pages but were as good as a class with Ms Wilson, who is a professor of classical studies at the University of Pennsylvania. She got me excited to read about Odysseus, that man of many minds and many skills, that trickster with Athena as his guardian goddess.

I did not read it all in one go, but I read steadily every week and finished in three months. Along with the Introduction and Translator's Note in the front of the book, Wilson also provides Notes in the back with a summary of each chapter and additional clarifications as well as an extensive glossary of characters and locations. The book is a complete package and I never lost track of the story.

If you have wanted to read The Odyssey or if you had a less than wonderful time reading it in the past, I recommend this translation. It is as easy to read as a novel and a great adventure story. 

Yesterday I started reading Circe by Madeline Miller. I felt right at home in Ancient Greece where gods and mortals played out their destinies.

(The Emily Wilson translation of The Odyssey is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Thursday, June 14, 2018


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Now We Can See the Moon, Berit Ellingsen, Snuggly Books, 2018, 250 pp
I don't remember how I learned about Berit Ellingsen but somehow I did and two years ago read her brilliant and disturbing novel Not Dark Yet. She is a Korean-Norwegian science writer and novelist, living in Norway. I have been following her on Twitter (@BeritEllingsen) and last year experienced her journey to Antarctica through her tweets and excellent photos.
Now We Can See the Moon opens with a devastating hurricane and the description of it effects. Think Houston, Puerto Rico, etc 2017, only 100 times more destructive. Think J G Ballard's The Drowned World. As in Not Dark Yet the location is unnamed except for being somewhere near water in the Northern Hemisphere.

The second chapter introduces the relief team, arriving by helicopter in their very own country. In all their years of experience providing relief for weather disasters around the world, they had never encountered such a thing at home. So it has happened. The growth rate of climactic disaster has outrun the capability of the planet's relief organizations to keep up.

In chapter three, Brandon Minamoto, the main character from Not Dark Yet, reappears. He is still living in his cabin in the mountains but the hurricane reached him there. Once the storm subsides he sets off for his home city to see if he can find his family and boyfriend. After a treacherous journey with echos of McCarthy's The Road, he arrives at his destroyed apartment building and eventually discovers the relief team.

He joins them in their efforts, being a steady, brave and resourceful guy, hoping for help in finding his loved ones. Things go from bad to worse as the team is cut off from any support by their sponsoring organization.

This novel is a chilling portrayal of what may be coming. It is actually quite devoid of some of the bells and whistles of Cli Fi but no less, maybe even more evocative of the psychological damage these disasters inflict on the survivors and on those who do their best to find and help them. It is also an inside look at the political and financial backdrop to such work. If it is even remotely true, it is a harrowing look at how unprepared we are for what lies ahead.

I wish Ellingsen would be picked up by a mainstream publisher and thus be exposed to a wider audience. I fear she may have too much truth to tell. So I, with my small voice and presence in today's cyber world, have become a champion of her very conscious and prescient message. Berit even mentioned my name in the acknowledgements. I wasn't expecting that but it was wonderful to know that she feels my support.

If you want some deep dark awareness of why Puerto Rico is still so ruined just read this book. If you want to bolster your already woke awareness of what climate change can do, just read this book. The last two pages will even bring you to a vision of hope for poor beleaguered Earth.

Buy it from your favorite bookseller (it is in paperback), read it, pass it around. Thank you!

(Now We Can See the Moon is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2018


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The Rector of Justin, Louis Auchincloss, Houghton Mifflin, 1964, 341 pp
This novel was the #6 bestseller in 1964. I had heard of the author, often written about in reverent terms, but had not ever read him. He wrote 31 novels spanning his writing career of 60 years, served as President of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and received the National Medal of Arts.
Because he was known for continuing the tradition of Henry James and Edith Wharton in writing about the 20th century American upper class, I was not drawn to seek him out. I must admit that his writing is good and much smoother reading than James or Wharton has been for me.

The Rector of Justin would fall into the genre of boarding school fiction. A rector is a headmaster and Justin is an Episcopalian boarding school outside Boston. Francis Prescott is its founder and aging rector, fighting off retirement as the world changes around him.

Essentially the novel reveals the Rector's life story through the viewpoints of various people including his oldest friend and his rebellious daughter. Like most people, he has many sides to his personality but since he is such a personage with power over boys aged 12 to 17, as well as having a Board of Directors to appease, all of those sides get full play.

I enjoyed reading the book for the range of decades it covers. Wealth does not ensure good behavior. As the 20th century progressed the exclusivity of Justin was encroached upon by the rising middle class and the loosening morals of the times. Bad behavior is where you find it. An aging man, part authoritarian martinet, part moral fusspot, tempered somewhat by his Christian beliefs, Francis Prescott is a personification of 20th century New England and the uneasy relationship between its social classes.

I would have read this book regardless due to the bestseller list so I was pleased to have learned a few more things about those times and to have been entertained by a variety of unique characters.

(Due to its having been republished by Mariner Press this year, The Rector of Justin is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Sunday, June 10, 2018


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How To Be Both, Ali Smith, Pantheon Books, 2014, 315 pp
This is the second of the three books I bought while on vacation. I had heard of it and of the author plus the cover spoke to me. Reading it for me was so special and took me away on flights of imagination, being about two female artists separated by five centuries. The book might not create such a reaction in every reader due to the somewhat experimental writing, unless you like stories about unusual women, art, and strange connections. It is the literary version of books like The Last Painting of Sara de Vos.
George, whose given name is Georgia, is a British teen in the present day, the child of a child of the 1960s. She has just lost her annoying mother who died unexpectedly. I lost an annoying mother. I know that conundrum of grieving for someone so close to and yet so different from oneself. In fact, the first sentence of the book is: "Consider this moral conundrum for a moment, George's mother says to George, who's sitting in the front passenger seat." George didn't know what a moral conundrum was at the time but now she is finding them everywhere.
After following George through 150 pages of grieving for and reminiscing about her mother, we are introduced to the first person voice of a female Renaissance painter, Francesco del Cossa, who is passing as a male in Italy. She turns out to be the creator of the frescoes George's mother took her and her brother to see a few months before the mother's death. Said painter was famous for demanding more money for producing better art.
We learn the story of Francesca's life, her parents, her mentor and supporter, her lover, how she became Francesco, and her tragic end. It is a wondrous tale of a strong, talented, and fearless individual.
Later in the book Francesca's disembodied spirit begins to follow George in her 21st century life.
As a plot it makes little sense but as a meditation on creativity, love of many kinds and second chances, it made a beautiful and dreamlike sense. I was carried along in a sort of blissful state and I loved every page.
(How To Be Both is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, June 08, 2018


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So Lucky, Nicola Griffith, Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2018, 178 pp
This novel was one of the books I picked up at Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor during my vacation in Michigan. I felt so lucky to find it there because it had just been published and my library didn't have it yet.
It is the powerful story of a successful happy woman whose life turned on her in one week. Her wife of many years asks for a divorce and she is presented with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis. Mara, at the time had thought she had been happily married for 14 years. She was a high level martial artist and the head of a multimillion-dollar AIDS foundation she had been instrumental in building. She was not a victim and then she was.

Over the course of the book, Mara comes to grips with her condition and learns how to adapt her fighting spirit to the hand she has been dealt. It is both heartbreaking and inspiring, also something of a psychological thriller because Mara is fearless and gets herself into plenty of danger. Most of all it is the way Nicola Griffith writes about the gritty daily details that brought this reader to an awareness of what life is really like for a handicapped person in our society. I think it would also bring hope and empowerment to individuals who are disabled or chronically ill.

I suppose the book falls into the category of what these days is called auto-fiction. The author was a self-defense instructor diagnosed with MS who has reinvented herself into a full-time award winning writer. She is the author of one of my favorite books ever, the amazing Hild. She has written seven novels and now holds a PhD in Humanities. She is an unrelenting champion of women.

The bottom line is that she is a strong writer and creator of fierce female characters. I recommend So Lucky to everyone without reservation.

(So Lucky is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Tuesday, June 05, 2018


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The Valley of the Shadow of Death, Kermit Alexander, Atria Books, 2015, 315 pp
Oh my, this was tough, both due to the subject matter and to the somewhat inept writing.
Being the world's least sports-minded person, I had never heard of Kermit Alexander. He is a retired NFL All-Pro cornerback who played for the San Francisco 49ers, the Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles. He is a Black man born and raised in South Central Los Angeles.

His co-writers (not ghost writers because they are credited by name) Alex Gerould and Jeff Snipes are criminal justice professors at San Francisco State University. Creative non-fiction is clearly not their forte. The Bookie Babes were unanimous on the terrible clunkiness of the writing.

Los Angeles is the city where I live, though I am on the outskirts. South Central is deep in the ghetto and in 1984 was beset by drugs, gangs and violence. Some of the brothers there were responsible for the urban legend about blacks killing blacks.

On August 31, 1984, three armed men broke into the home of Kermit's grandmother and slaughtered her, his sister, and two of his nephews. The book tells the story of this seemingly senseless act of violence from the viewpoint of Kermit Alexander. It covers his coming of age in the 1950s, his family history, and the many years of police investigation and trials. The perpetrators were all eventually discovered, the reason for the crime determined, and the perps sent to prison with the death penalty. But Kermit and his remaining family were almost destroyed in the aftermath by their loss and some of the attitudes towards them.

I guess conditions are better in South Central these days but it is still a ghetto, drug fueled and killing the hopes of black children who are born and raised there. I just felt ruined by what I learned from this book and being forced to really confront what goes on in a neighborhood less than 30 miles from where I live.

One of the most informative parts of the book was a history of gangs in American cities. The shootings of Alexander's family members were traced to Crips, one of LA's most infamous gangs. They have a deep network in and out of and between the prisons and life on the streets.

Another educational point was the interaction of the death penalty with the fates of those who receive that as their punishment. I have read about some of that in other books but in this one it was more thoroughly covered. Capital punishment is still the law in California though there has not been an execution since 2006. Close to 750 prisoners are on death row in the state. It is one gnarly topic.

Kermit Alexander did finally recover from his decades of obsession with the murders and rebuilt his family. I am glad I read the book, as horrific as the story is, but I will tell you it was not easy.

One of the Bookie Babes, who recommended the book, is the wife of a retired policeman and the mother of a current one. She assured us that big improvements have been made in the police force as regards brutality, racism and workable community programs. I believe her but there is a long way to go and it is not only in law enforcement that change is needed.

I recommend the book, as well as Paul Beatty's novel, The Sellout. All of the Babes agreed that if we intend to be the change we want to see in the world, we cannot say we are too faint of heart to read such books.

(The Valley of the Shadow of Death is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Monday, June 04, 2018


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The Martyred, Richard E Kim, George Braziller Inc, 1964, 316 pp
The Martyred was #7 on the 1964 bestseller list. Though I did not completely dislike the novel, it was so strange I wondered how it became a top ten bestseller.
 Richard E Kim was a Korean born author who emigrated to the US in 1955 at the age of 23, became an American citizen and was educated in political science, history and writing. His profession was teaching at the university level and he received numerous awards and fellowships. In other words, he was the kind of immigrant who worked hard and made the most of the opportunities he found in America, as is true of most immigrants as long as the opportunities are available.
The Martyred was his first novel and concerns the 1950s Korean War from the viewpoint of a South Korean military man. Captain Lee, Army Intelligence, is ordered by Colonel Chang to investigate the killing of 12 Christian ministers by the Communists. Chang wants to determine why two of the 14 ministers rounded up had been spared.
If you know Korean War history, which I did not and had to look up, there was a time early in the war in mid 1950 when the South Korean army occupied the northern city of Pyongyang. Colonel Chang is close-mouthed about his reasons for the investigation but Captain Lee is one who follows orders without much questioning. Neither man is religious but as the story progresses it becomes clear that Chang is looking for some propaganda he can use against the Communists. He wants his Captain to make sure no ministers betrayed others to save themselves. Captain Lee, on the other hand, becomes intrigued by Mr Shin, one of the survivors.

Richard Kim's writing style is spare and almost devoid of emotion with awkward dialogue. I have not often read an American bestseller that feels this way. For most of the story I could not grasp what Kim was getting at in his story. Eventually it became more a story about spiritual conflict among the ministers and their parishioners at that time. 
Catholicism first came into Korea from China in the late 1700s. It had a rocky beginning and its members were disciplined or imprisoned by the Korean government. Then followed the annexation of Korea by Japan from 1910 to 1945. Both Catholic and Protestant churches grew during that time and became part of the Korean Independence movement against Japan.

I learned the information in the paragraph above from my own perusal on the Web, done after I finished the book. I also have to thank Min Jin Lee for her wonderful novel Pachinko in which she covers some of that history. I found it interesting that initially Christianity in Korea was looked upon as a force for reforming the Confucian system in order to modernize the country.

What I surmise then is that Christianity was a growing religion there for a long time and by the time of the Korean War was also under threat from Communism. Since American bestseller lists in the 20th century often included novels about religion, I can see how this novel might have caught on with the American book buying and book reading public. It also fits in with the extreme anti-communist mood of the times.

While I didn't exactly enjoy the book it did lead to a better understanding of Korea. That is no small thing in these troubled political times when North Korea is still communist with no love for America.

Sunday, June 03, 2018


Four groups are meeting in June. One Book At A Time did not meet last month due to circumstances not aligning. We will discuss last month's book in June. I have already read The Last Paining of Sara de Vos but look forward to discussing it with the Bookies Babes. This afternoon I will be with Molly's Group discussing a book about an amazing woman who was instrumental in starting the Garment Workers Union in the early 1900s. It is all good.

Molly's Group:
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One Book At A Time:
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Tina's Group:
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Bookie Babes:
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As always I encourage readers to find a reading group they feel good attending. On line discussions are just not the same as face to face interaction. Of course, do not join reading groups where the members don't read the book! 
If you are already in a group, what will you be discussing in June?

Friday, June 01, 2018


In another race to the finish I made my goal of reading 12 books. I thought my vacation to Michigan might interfere with my reading time but in fact, I visited my favorite Michigan Indie Bookstore, Literati, in Ann Arbor. Of course I bought books and two of them were short and wonderful. While my sister went to work, planted tomatoes, and acted as consummate host, I got to read! 

Stats: 12 books read. 11 fiction. 5 written by women. 4 for My Big Fat Reading Project. 3 historical fiction. 1 speculative. 1 classic. 1 translated. 2 thrillers. 1 nonfiction.
Favorite books: So Lucky, How to Be Both, Remarkable Creatures.
Not a least favorite in the bunch.

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Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

The thing I did not keep up with is writing my reviews and posting them on the blog. I am 9 books behind on posting and seven on writing reviews. Stay tuned for lots of posts!

How was your May reading? What were your favorite books read?