Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

I was intrigued by some of the quotes I have read by Mark Twain of his travels abroad and found that many of them came from Innocents Abroad which is free for Kindle on the Amazon web site. Unfortunately it didn't include any of the pictures listed in the book, but you can view them here. The 1867 "cruise" was offered for $1,250, visiting Europe, North Africa and the Holy Land with over-land and pleasure excursions in between. It seems the boat had very few amenities, but did carry a printing press for newsletters. If you are looking for a politically correct travel-log this is not it. Mark Twain describes both the sights and people beautifully but often with remarks that would be stricken from present day conversation.  The title is a giveaway as to the content. The book follows the sometimes blundering tours of American tourists who know little of the lands they were visiting unless they had seen a picture here and there (the days before television and the internet). But through their eyes you get a glimpse into how each port looked to someone with no pre-conceived notions. Mark Twain is a very observant traveler and rather than a dry account, he intersperses his experience and those of his fellow travelers with humor and awe.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Cozy Mysteries

Mystery BooksA big thank you to Cozy Mystery List for adding my cozies.  If you're looking for a new author or a list of novels by a favorite author, hop on over and check out all the info. for us cozy fanatics.

Ann Summerville Cozy List

And if you wonder what exactly a cozy entails, read a description of the cozy mystery genre here

Friday, October 2, 2015

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore

Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore follows a fictional character, Lucien Lessard, who lives with his family in a boulangerie surrounded by the Paris streets of  Montmartre. Along with baking bread, Lucien has a passion for painting which is encouraged by the many painters who had studios in the area. Among his friends are Henri Toulouse-Lautrec and Camille Pissarro. The story opens with the death of Vincent Van Gogh. While much of the book is fictional, there are many intriguing factoids (be sure to read the Afterword). One such fact is that ultramarine blue was very expensive if the painter used the natural powder from crushed lapis lazuli gemstones. Another tidbit was that Whistler, while scraping and using white lead paint in Symphony in White, developed lead poisoning. Although I enjoyed the interaction between the painters, the book was very odd/strange. The supernatural aspects of the Colorman and Bleu I found confusing.

From the cover:
In July 1890, Vincent Van Gogh went into a cornfield and shot himself. Or did he? Why would an artist at the height of his creative powers take his life . . . and then walk a mile to a doctor's house? Who was the crooked little "color man" Vincent claimed was stalking him? and why had Vincent recently become terrified of a certain shade of blue?
These questions confront baker-turned-painter Lucien Lessard and bon vivant Henri Toulouse-Lautrec as they seek the truth of their friend's untimely death, a quest that will lead them on a surreal odyssey through later 19th-century Paris.

You can read the first few chapters here

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

One Nation by Ben Carson

I'm continuing my quest to find out more about candidates involved in our next election. I read Ben Carson's book Gifted Hands many years ago and have been intrigued by his success, moving from a Detroit neighborhood in a family with a single mother who could not read, to one of the top neurosurgeons in the country.
I came across One Nation at our local library. As with the people who influenced America as a new country, Ben Carson uses wisdom of the bible to make decisions, but he is quick to point out that although there are divisions between those who believe in God and those who are atheists we should respect each other and try to find common ground. He wants to find a way to unify our country and to return to the U.S. Constitution as the dominant document of government rather than having a pendulum that swings dramatically to the right or to the left. He wishes that people would vote for a candidate rather than a particular party - choose someone with a clear vision.

"Unless the majority of Americans awaken from their complacency and recognize the threat to their fundamental individual liberties imposed by continued expansion of the federal government, nothing will save us from the fate of all pinnacle nations that have preceded us, those that tolerated political and moral corruption while ignoring fiscal irresponsibility."

He also encourages us to look at the picture from another person's point of view, forget political correctness and talk to people who are of different races, religions, or lifestyles.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mill Girl by Sue Reid

Mill Girl by Sue Reid is part of the My Story collection of children's young reader books.

A Victorian Girl's Diary
1842 - 1843
In Spring 1842 Eliza is shocked when she is sent to work in the Manchester cotton mills - the noisy suffocating mills. The work is backbreaking and dangerous and when she sees friends' lives wrecked by poverty, sickness and unrest, Eliza realizes she must fight to escape the fate of a mill girl.

Set in Manchester, England, Mill Girl gives an account of life for children as young as 9 working in spinning mills inhaling fluff from the thread and working beneath machines where they were dangerously close to heavy machinery constantly moving. Unrest among the workers in appalling conditions prompted many to join a Chartist Movement. Cheap cotton material was in demand and with the invention of James Hargreaves' Spinning Jenny workers could spin as much as 8 people could in their homes. Other inventions brought about the Industrial Revolution.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Night and Day Book Tour

A big thank you to Lori at Great Escapes for organizing my book tour. Stop by the blogs below and say hello.

Not all is what it seems in Pecan Valley and Bea can’t quite put her finger on what's wrong. She’s hoping Marge won’t become a permanent house guest and encourages her to look for a new home, but while they are scouting the neighborhood they end up looking for more than a house for Marge. What Bea wants to uncover is the unsavory dealings of a ruthless realtor and a murderer that might put Bea on the list of victims. 

Go to any of the stops below to enter for a Night and Day giveaway.

Tour Participants
September 19 – Lisa Ks Book Reviews – Review
September 20 – StoreyBook Reviews – Guest Post
September 22 – Nadaness In Motion – Guest Post
September 23 – Thoughts in Progress - Review, Guest Post
September 24 – Griperang's Bookmarks – Interview
September 25 – Escape With Dollycas Into A Good Book - Spotlight
September 26 – deal sharing aunt – Review, Interview
September 27 – Frankie Bow - Guest Post, Spotlight
September 28 – Omnimystery News – Interview
September 29 – fuonlyknew – Review
September 30 – Book Splurge – Review
October 1 – Lori's Reading Corner – Guest Post
October 2 – View from the Birdhouse – Review

Friday, September 18, 2015

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

Tiffany Girl by Deanne Gist is an interesting look into the girls Louis Comfort Tiffany hired to work on his exhibition at the 1893 World's Fair. Although the main character, Flossie is fictitious, many of the characters are based on people involved with Mr. Tiffany's enterprises. You can see pictures of the chapel built for the fair here

Deeanne Gist (and her sister) studied letters and documents to develop a story peppered with facts about life for the Tiffany Girls and in particular struggles for women at the end of the nineteenth century. Flossie refers to herself as a New Woman. One who is willing to discontinue passing her wages to her father (which he gambled away) and moving from her home to a boarding house.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

My East End by Gilda O'Neill

Gilda O'Neill has drawn on her life in Cockney London to give us a taste of what it was like to live around the docklands by the River Thames in the 1950s. My East End shares with us life in rows of terraced houses with no indoor toilets and often sharing with one or more families. Her nan (grandmother) had a pie and mash shop, her grandfather was a tug skipper.
Image result for east end terraced houses 1950In personal recollections East Enders, instead of complaining about the cramped conditions, enjoyed the sense of community with families looking after each other's children, sharing a meal when times were hard (as it was most of the time) and helping out when someone was ill. Women sat outside their doors (which led directly into the street with no front garden) and watched children play and share a conversation with their neighbors.
The children made their own games using an old bike wheel with the spokes removed or playing on bomb sites (from WWII) hoping to find some treasures. Following the arrival of container shipping requiring deeper waters and larger cranes, the docks were eventually closed and trade moved to the Thames estuary, Tilbury.
The Docklands were later developed into a London business area with skyscrapers and office buildings replacing the terraced houses and displacing the dock workers who could no longer afford to live there. The area was further developed to host the 2012 London Olympics.

Unfortunately, Gilda O'Neill died a few years ago at the age of 59. She has many works of both fiction and non-fiction.
Image result for canary wharf

Monday, September 14, 2015

Gifted Hands by Ben Carson

Ben Carson has been in the news a lot lately as a Republican Candidate, but before his goal to enter the white house he was a gifted surgeon. I read his book Gifted Hands many years ago and was impressed by his tenacity and despite having a difficult childhood (he and his brother were raised by their mother who sometimes worked 2-3 jobs to support them) he worked hard as a medical student and became Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins at age 33.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Anastasia by Carolyn Meyer

Anastasia, The Last Grand Duchess by Carolyn Meyer is set in 1914 Russia and is written in diary form. Scholastic has a wonderful series of history books written from the point of view of a child. This particular series is called The Royal Diaries. Anastasia was the child of Nicholas (Tsar of Russia) and Alexander (of German descent).  At the time Russia continued to use the Julian calendar which added extra hours every year and by 1914 had increased the date by 13 days . Other countries were using the Gregorian calendar (adopted by Pope Gregory on the advice of astronomers in 1582). Each day of the diary shows dates for both calendars.  There are hints throughout the diary of unrest in Russia, although Anastasia only overhears tidbits here and there of what is going on in the country. The children of the Tsar are mostly secluded with tutors and with travels to and from various palaces throughout Russia. She mentions Father Grigory (Rasputin) who was sought out as a mystic healer for Anastasia's brother Alexei Romanov who suffered from hemophilia. It is some surprise to her when Frans Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary is assassinated in Sarajevo and  a month later Austrians attack Belgrade. Germany (Kaiser Wilhelm II) declares war on Russia. Kaiser Wilhelm and Tsarina Alexandra are both grandchildren of Queen Victoria. Anastasia is sad that her father is absent so much after war is declared. Her mother and older sisters begin nursing wounded soldiers and turn many of the palaces into hospitals. Civil war followed with the red (communists) and white (non-communist) armies fighting for power.  If you're not familiar with the story of Nicholas and Alexander their ending is very sad (You Tube video Death of Nicholas II below goes through the events).

A 1971 movie covered the family during the tumultuous times.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Dancing at the Harvest Moon by K.C. McKinnon

I picked this book up at a recent Friends of the Library book sale and came home with an armful of books.

K.C. McKinnon is a pseudonym of Cathie Pelletier who wrote two novels under the name. The setting is a lake in Canada and along with the lovely descriptions, there are beautiful charcoal drawings at the beginning of each chapter. I enjoyed the book for the prose, but I wasn't overly keen on the story line. I couldn't understand why Maggie would leave Robbie in the first place, if she cared so much for him and she seemed to be trying to recreate him in someone else. (I won't say more than that as it will spoil the story for those who read it).

From the cover:
His letters thrilled her as a young woman in love for the first time, and now, many years later, they mean more than ever to Maggie McIntyre. After her husband of twenty years leaves her for a younger woman, it's the discovery of Robbie's letters that gives Maggie a renewed sense of purpose: to return to Little Bear Lake and recapture the woman she once was. . .

Apparently the book was made into a movie with mixed reviews.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Being Mortal (Medicine and What Matters in the End) by Atul Gawande isn't a book I would normally pick up, but as a book club read, I struggled through it.

The beginning starts with a depressing look at what exactly happens to our body as we age. Not a pretty sight. In subsequent chapters Dr. Gawande goes through what people in their declining years have endured: Poor houses in 1912 that housed elderly paupers along with out of luck people, drunks and those mentally ill.
Studies were done in later years of those over the age of 70. Half a group was assigned geriatric nurses and doctors and the others referred to their own usual physicians. Those with the geriatric group were 25% less likely to become disabled or develop depression. Unfortunately the successful study conducted by the University of Minnesota, rather than encourage further care through their geriatric group, was followed by the closure of that division of their hospital which they said was too costly to continue.

One experiment at Chase Memorial Nursing Home called The Eden Project brought in dogs, cats and birds and found that by introducing animals caused a 50% drop in prescription drugs and deaths fell by 15%.

A 1908 Harvard philosopher, Josiah Royce, wrote that we need more than being housed and fed. We need to seek a cause beyond ourselves: a building project, a family or pet - we need loyalty.

NewBridge Nursing Home had a different approach and has set up small "households" with 14-16 residents. Residents of the home also work as tutors and school librarians for a school that shares its grounds. When studying WWII, the children were able to speak with veterans at the home. They jointly hold shows, musical performances and fitness classes.

The book also discussed care versus hospice in terminal cases. In most cases people will take whatever action a doctor suggests for a few more months of life often with horrendous side effects from drugs or treatments rather than managing pain and dying peacefully. Ironically, studies have shown that those choosing hospice care had a longer survival rate of 3 months - 3 years.

In the epilogue, the author notes that doctors concentrate on survival not well-being. The question, the author says should be asked when considering surgery or life prolonging medications (along with the side effects) is: What are the trade offs you are willing or not willing to take? What are your fears and what are your hopes?

Friday, September 4, 2015

Evening Stars by Susan Mallery

Susan Mallery's writing is easy to read. She has a way with words that gives the reader an intimate look into each of the characters. Evening Stars is the first in a Blackberry Island series, an island set off the Pacific Northwest coast. I liked the story and the family dynamics between the sisters and their mother. However, one thing that discouraged me from adding it to my list of favorite books for this year was the mother, Bonnie's romantic attachment. I prefer traditional relationships and felt that a male partner would have enhanced the story. I'll definitely look out for more of Susan Mallery's books though, she's a very talented writer and storyteller. 

From the cover:
Small-town nurse Nina Wentworth has made a career out of being a caretaker. More “Mom” than their mother ever was, she sacrificed medical school – and her first love – so her sister could break free. Which is why she isn’t exactly thrilled to see Averil back on Blackberry Island, especially when Nina’s life has suddenly become…complicated.
Nina unexpectedly finds herself juggling two men—her high school sweetheart and a younger, maverick pilot who also wants to claim her heart. But as fun as all this romance is, Nina has real life to deal with. Averil doesn’t seem to want the great guy she’s married to or be making headway writing her first book, their mom is living life just as recklessly as she always has, and Nina’s starting to realize that the control she once had is slipping out of her fingers. Her hopes of getting off the island seem to be stretching further away…until her mother makes a discovery that could change everything forever.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Strictly Murder by Lynda Wilcox

I came across Lynda Wilcox on Goodreads and picked up the first cozy mystery in the Verity Long Series.

Strictly Murder (The Verity Long Mysteries Book 1)The estate agent's details listed two receptions, kitchen and bath. What they failed to mention was the dead celebrity in the master bedroom. Personal assistant Verity Long's house hunt is about to turn into a hunt for a killer.

It will take some fancy footwork to navigate the bitchy world of dance shows, television studios, and dangerously gorgeous male co-stars.

When Verity looks like the killer's next tango partner, she discovers that this dance is...Strictly Murder.

Verity has a great job researching crimes for a crime writer and it gives her a chance to look into a recent local murder in an English village (we all love English villages in a cozy mystery). The crime involves the production of a televised dance show (like Dancing with the Stars/Strictly Come Dancing). I thought the characters had all the quirkiness of a cozy mystery and I liked Verity as a character with her thoughts all over the place (as were her actions). I'll definitely be reading more in this series.  

The novel is currently free for Kindle.