Thursday, October 31, 2019


All Hallow's Eve, the origin of Halloween

The history of Halloween goes all the way back to a pagan festival called Samhain. The word "Halloween" comes from"All Hallows' Eve" and means "hallowed evening." Hundreds of years ago, people dressed up as saints and went door to door, which is the origin of Halloween costumes and trick-or-treating.
All Saints Day, also known as All Hallows' Day, or Hallowmas, is a Christian celebration in honor of all the saints from Christian history. In Western Christianity, it is observed on November 1st by the Roman Catholic Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church, and other Protestant denominations.
For some reason life became overly intense for me this past week. Travel plans burned by fires, wind, power outages. (Don't worry I am safe at home.) One of the most challenging novels I have read in a while took me 9 days to get through. Do you ever have times when you feel changes going on in you, mentally, physically, emotionally, but you are not sure where these changes are taking you or if you will just emerge strengthened and with a better idea of what the heck you are doing in life? Yes, like that.

So I have six novels to write about and post. I have a cool post I want to do to connect up more bloggers to more bloggers. And I am working on a post about the 10 Caldecott Medal winning picture books I have read recently. None of these will be ready today nor perhaps tomorrow. But I will get to them soon.

Enjoy these holy days, whatever you believe, because we are all connected by the history, myths, and memories of what it means to be homo sapiens. The world is in our hands but we are also in its hands. Thinking about where we go from here.

Saturday, October 26, 2019


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Blood Lure, Nevada Barr, G P Putnam's Sons, 2001, 320 pp
The day I got home from our trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park, I opened Nevada Barr's ninth book in her National Park mystery series. In a way, it helped me preserve the wonder of being in wild spaces away from the madness of civilization.
Blood Lure take place in Glacier National Park in Montana, my favorite park of them all. Of course the madness of civilization does manage to invade the parks along with the humans who visit them. Another madness defies Anna Pigeon, the park ranger whose detective skills feature in these books. Grizzly bears!

Anna was sent to Glacier for training in the study of bears. She trains with Joan Rand, an experienced bear researcher and a much more trusting soul than Anna.

While they are in the back country performing research activities, a grizzly attacks their campsite. The teenage boy working as an assistant to Joan goes missing and a camper who turns out to be the boy's stepmother is found dead of a broken neck with the flesh of her face cut away.

Anna is called upon by the Chief Ranger to help with the investigation. As usual, she is the most competent and must solve what appears to be a family psychological puzzle as well as find the guilty bear.

I think this is my favorite so far, but I may have said that about her last book. Anna is almost supernatural in her daring and life threatening investigation. Or does the strange young man she encounters have special powers? Or is it the bear?

Great bloodcurdling read!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019


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Mrs Everything, Jennifer Weiner, Atria Books, 2019, 416 pp
My second only Jennifer Weiner novel was a good experience. I read In Her Shoes, her second novel, in 2007 because it was coming out as a movie. Ms Weiner has been emphatic about chick lit being a valid genre and that's fine. It is just not my favorite genre and since that is what she writes I never read more.
The buzz about Mrs Everything led me to believe she had gone further or deeper or something this time. I read it, I had a good time, it's historical to a degree (1950s Detroit) but it is still chick lit.

Two sisters, a Jewish family in Detroit, father dies, mother is strict. One sister doesn't fit the mold. The reader can tell before she can that she is gay. The other sister is "perfect," beautiful, good, mom likes her better. She goes wild at University of Michigan in the 60s (so did I!) 

Neither sister gets the life she wanted and the irony of how far women have supposedly come but not really is brought home with not too heavy a hand.

As I said, I had a good time, I get what she intended to do. Now back to my usual heavy stuff!

Sunday, October 20, 2019


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Last Exit to Brooklyn, Hubert Selby Jr, Grove Press, 1964, 304 pp
I hardly know what to say about this book. I read the first chapter and it was so raw and brutal. Not being in a state of mind strong enough at that time to deal with it, I set it aside. A few days later I noticed it was Banned Books Week.
An attempt to ban Last Exit to Brooklyn was made in Great Britain in 1966 when a Conservative Member of Parliament brought it to trial under the Obscene Publications Act. Copies were seized, the verdict was guilty. Then an appeal in 1968 reversed the decision. I did not have another banned book handy so I picked it up again.

Hubert Selby Jr lived in Brooklyn, working as a copywriter and general laborer. He wrote these connected stories about the people he lived and worked among in a straight forward style paying little attention to the rules of grammar. He highlighted the dope addicts, small time hoodlums, prostitutes and factory workers. There is a moving chapter about a labor strike. The New York Times Book Review called it "a vision of hell."

It is! Here's the thing though. These hellish aspects of life in American cities still exist. Selby's characters want the same things any of us want but the way the world is set up, only some of us have a path to getting them.

Selby does create a bit of relief or balance to all this gritty reality by drawing characters so sensitively that you see their innate humanity and childhood innocence turned to rage and desperate actions by the hopelessness of their environment and the powerlessness of their position. Most of these people started out looking for love, purpose and respect.

I can't recommend the book to just anyone. The stuff that happens to children and women, the prevalence of extreme violence is offensive. It beats the reader up emotionally. The failures of civilization are on intimate and visceral display. Still it is probably important to be reminded from time to time about the way things really are.

There was a movie in 1990. I have not seen that but I bet it put Rebel Without a Cause to shame.

Thursday, October 17, 2019


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The Defector, Daniel Silva, G P Putnam's Sons, 2009, 466 pp
Another great thriller from Mr Silva. The Defector is a bona fide sequel to its predecessor in the series, Moscow Rules. The entire series is best read in sequence I feel, but especially this time.
In order to avoid spoilers I cannot say much about the plot except that the things Israeli assassin Gabriel Allon thought he had fixed in Moscow Rules did not stay fixed so he has to go back to Russia, Putin's Russia. His new wife Chiara has been kidnapped by the villain from the earlier book and Gabriel is determined to rescue her or die trying. I can say he does not die. He can't because the series is still going, but their lives are forever changed.

Seeing as how Russia continues to this day to make trouble for the US, Europe and in the Middle East, Daniel Silva's series continues to give an excellent picture of the past two decades of political turmoil in the Western world.

Last decade, between 2002 and 2005, I read Upton Sinclair's Lanny Budd series. Those ten books were eye-opening for me as to the causes and results of WWI and WWII, including the Cold War and the influences of communism throughout the world. His viewpoint was definitely from a liberal perspective; fine with me because I call myself a Liberal.

I feel like Daniel Silva is carrying on that education for me. Though I don't see much hope or progress for the liberal idea that the arc of history bends toward justice, it eases me somehow to at least have some idea of the causes of injustice.

OK, Mr Silva, nine books read and ten more to go. I hope to finish the series by the time the next book comes out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019


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A Moveable Feast, The Restored Edition, Ernest Hemingway, Scribner, 1964/2009, 225 pp
I have a mixed relationship with Ernest Hemingway. I have only read four of his novels. For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940) was my favorite and I liked The Sun Also Rises (1926) pretty well. Across the River and Into the Trees (1950) was a bit misogynistic and repetitive for me. The Old Man and the Sea (1952) won a Pulitzer Prize, is revered by critics, literature professors and other serious readers. I was underwhelmed by a story that told an eternal tale about life being tough with the only fun being hunting/overcoming the elements.
I have also read Paula Hawkins's The Paris Wife, in which she paints him as a cold-hearted, self-involved womanizer. So why should I take this guy seriously?

A Moveable Feast is another book loved by Hemingway fans but when it came up on my 1964 list I was going to blow it off. I am glad I didn't.

It is a memoir, published posthumously after the author's suicide in 1961. His working title had been "The Paris Sketches," written between 1957 and 1959. He was looking back on his early years as a writer in Paris during the 1920s.

When Hemingway died his publishers at Scribner were still awaiting an introduction and the final chapter. So A Moveable Feast as it was originally published in 1964 was compiled by editors. I read the later "Restored Edition" with omitted material reinserted by Patrick Hemingway, a son from one of the author's four wives, and Sean Hemingway, a grandson.

Who knows what Ernest himself really wanted in the book? He opted out by ending his own life.

I am glad I read it though because I got at least a version of Hemingway's own and how he felt about those years. He had regrets about his treatment of all his wives, admitting that he was deficient as a husband. He includes what to me are revealing accounts of his friendships and acquaintances in the Paris years: Gertrude Stein, Sylvia Beach (founder of Shakespeare and Company Bookstore), Ford Maddox Ford, Ezra Pound, F Scott Fitzgerald and others. 

He goes into detail about his writing process in those years and the many, many books he read. It was easier to live in poverty then, he thought. Well, I feel that way about the late 1960s. It is always easier to live in poverty when one is young, in love, and not yet a parent. 
But I saw that he and his first wife Hadley were quite in love, even though he did use her as a bed partner, a secretary and almost a servant. They had fun skiing in the Alps back when there were no chair lifts. Hemingway believed that climbing up those mountains made one's legs so strong that you could not possibly break them skiing down!

I am still not sure I trust the man but reading A Moveable Feast reminded me that behind or inside every artist is just a human being with weaknesses, foibles, self-doubts, and mistakes made. Most people merely live the best they can (or don't.) Artists rise above all that and produce lasting creations that attempt to make sense of it for the rest of us.

Sunday, October 13, 2019


Quite a nice and varied lineup in my groups this month. 

Carol's Group:
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Tina's Group:
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One Book At A Time:
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Bookie Babes:
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I have finished reading The Ten Thousand Doors and loved it. Currently struggling through A Passage to India. I have already read and discussed Where the Crawdads Sing for another group but it's always good to discuss a book I thought was great.
Have you read and/or discussed any of these?

Thursday, October 10, 2019


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The Lonely Hearts Hotel, Heather O'Neill, Riverhead Books, 2017, 389 pp
Summary from Goodreads: Two babies are abandoned in a Montreal orphanage in the winter of 1914. Before long, their talents emerge: Pierrot is a piano prodigy; Rose lights up even the dreariest room with her dancing and comedy. As they travel around the city performing clown routines, the children fall in love with each other and dream up a plan for the most extraordinary and seductive circus show the world has ever seen.

Separated as teenagers, sent off to work as servants during the Great Depression, both descend into the city's underworld, dabbling in sex, drugs and theft in order to survive. But when Rose and Pierrot finally reunite beneath the snowflakes after years of searching and desperate poverty the possibilities of their childhood dreams are renewed, and they'll go to extreme lengths to make them come true. Soon, Rose, Pierrot and their troupe of clowns and chorus girls have hit New York, commanding the stage as well as the alleys, and neither the theater nor the underworld will ever look the same.
My Review:
My favorite book read in September will also be on my Top 25 Books Read in 2019. 
There are many reasons to read books: to learn about life and the world, to understand history, to find empathy for all types of people and creatures, to be entertained, to feel any and all possible emotions. I read for all those reasons.
My #1 reason for continuing to open the covers of as many books as I can is to find the ones that take me away to places of wonder. The Lonely Hearts Hotel did that for me, more completely than perhaps the great majority of books I have read.
Orphans, a love story, music, magic, clowns, deepest sorrows, highest achievements, all set in two iconic cities: Montreal and New York. These are ingredients that never fail to lure me in and when they are combined with style and sympathy and a clear-eyed look at life, as Heather O'Neill has done, I never want the book to end.
This is a novel for grownups who will not ever forget the spells cast on them by certain books in their childhoods, maybe more geared for females but I wouldn't want to make that judgement on either the book or the readers. I guess what is more true is it's a book for a select group of readers who would recognize each other anywhere. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2019


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The Testaments, Margaret Atwood, Nan A Talese/Doubleday, 2019, 415 pp
I first read Margaret Atwood in 1996. The book was Cat's Eye, her 7th novel published in 1989, the year I turned 42 and she turned 50. Next I read The Robber Bride, then Alias Grace. I found her to be one of the most intelligent authors I'd read and utterly brilliant when it came to females and their relationships with each other as well as with men. I wondered how I could learn to be that intelligent.
Now I am 72 and Margaret is almost 80. As I moved towards the end of middle age I had decided that I would navigate my older years seeking wisdom. As always, Margaret Atwood is way ahead of me. From The Handmaid's Tale through to the MaddAddam trilogy, The Heart Goes Last and now The Testaments, her wisdom as well as her wit has just grown and grown.

I loved The Testaments! The characters, the pace, and the reassurance that women can fight oppression at any age with smarts, courage, cooperation and even a touch of evil. Women of three generations inhabit the story. Not all of them are nice people, well perhaps none of them are. It's not always about being nice. Some are good, some are horrible. 

They are united only by an aversion to being under the thumbs of men. Not all men are bad of course, but they easily can become handy with those thumbs as well as other body parts.

Margaret Atwood's wisdom, along with a sharp sense of politics and deep awareness of how human beings act and react, shines through The Testaments on every page. She has said she may be done writing novels. I say she deserves to make that choice. After all, that is one of the things wisdom is for. If she is done, she has left us with a perfect sequel to The Handmaid's Tale.

Monday, October 07, 2019


As I mentioned last week, I have wanted to go to Lassen ever since reading Nevada Barr's mystery Firestorm. On Sunday, September 29, we got up at 5 am and were on the road by 6:30. Most of the 8 hour drive from Los Angeles to Lassen is on I5, the interstate that runs from the California/Mexican border at Tijuana to the Canadian border at Vancouver. We like to stop, stretch and change drivers often so we made it to Mineral, CA in about 10 hours.

Our first stop in the area was Highlands Ranch Resort. We did not get rooms there but had heard about their excellent restaurant. So after a leisurely happy hour at the bar with its great bar menu we headed to our more economical cabin. By then it was close to dark and the predicted storm of rain mixed with snow had begun.

I loved that our front porch was tucked behind two huge pine trees. We had a kitchen, small living room, bedroom and bath. Once we got the heater going we were cosy under lots of blankets because it rained and snowed all night.
We woke to a wonderland of snow on trees and the ground though the roads in the area were cleared. But when we arrived at the park we learned that the road through the park was closed. We walked up the road as far as we could, adjusting to the altitude of 5000 feet! But we could see Lassen Peak where the last eruption of its volcano was in 1913. It was cold and I was bundled!

We spent the rest of the day studying the exhibits in the Visitor Center and driving around the Lassen National Forest which surrounds the park, enjoying a picnic by a lake, and another great dinner at Highlands Ranch.
On Tuesday morning the 29 mile road through the park was open! Some of the trails we had picked out to hike were still covered with snow, some were too steep for me, but we walked along a creek, then hiked to and around Summit Lake. I lagged along while Greg went ahead and then came back to fetch me. I loved seeing chipmunks, birds, snow cascading down from the trees as the sun warmed the area and spotting animal tracks.
By the end of the afternoon we had driven the entire road and then drove back to the entrance. Amazing how much different things looked when going in the opposite direction!


The rocks in the foreground of this last photo are from the 1913 eruption! That area is called Chaos Crags.
After another 10 hours on the road on Wednesday we were home. All that driving was so worth it!! The next day I started another Nevada Barr mystery, Blood Lure, set in Glacier National Park. Thanks to our trip I could just feel the atmosphere, the unique combination of wilderness and human care that keeps our National Parks protected and gives us a chance to experience a bit of what our country was like before we made it into what it is now. 
I can't recommend those books enough for giving the feel of the parks, the experience of what park rangers go through to keep us safe while also protecting the parks from human wrongdoing. If you can get to any of the many American National Parks it is the most wonderful adventure, even for weaklings like me, and the most soul reviving, nature appreciating thing I have found. We met a couple guys who had been off-trail for four days and had not even known the road was closed until we connected at Summit Lake! 

I wonder where we will go next year.

Friday, October 04, 2019


September was a busy month including a family weekend in the middle and our trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park beginning on the 29th. The trip was amazing, epic and soul nourishing. I will try to squeeze in a post about it. The National Parks of the USA are one of our best national treasures. I am so grateful to have the time and the resources to visit at least one a year and I encourage everyone to do so. 

Meanwhile I managed to read a good number of books, the shortest and yet some of the best were four Caldecott Medal winning picture books. I am making a brief study of the illustration styles that were awarded in the 1990s and will do a post on those books when I get through the decade.

15 books read. 13 fiction. 7 by women. 3 for My Big Fat Reading Project. 2 memoir. 2 speculative. 3 thriller. 4 picture book.

Countries visited: Russia, Canada, Great Britain, France, USA, Israel.

Authors new to me: Jason Matthews, T Kira Madden, Abby Geni, Heather O'Niell, Alex Michaelides, David Wiesner, Peggy Rathmann, Paul O Zelinsky, Allen Say, Hubert Selby Jr.

Favorite: The Lonely Hearts Hotel
Least Favorite: The Silent Patient
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Have you read any of these? What were your favorite books read in September?