Monday, November 16, 2015

Teddy Bears

Image result for teddy bear cartoon originalWe have all cuddled teddy bears as a child, but very few know that it started with Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt.  While hunting black bear in Mississippi, the President became increasingly frustrated at not being able to shoot a bear. To help him, hunt guides captured a bear and tied it to a tree, but after viewing the exhausted bear, President Roosevelt decided to let the animal go. On November 16, 1902 a Washington Post Cartoon by Clifford Berryman showed a bear which also appeared in later cartoons. Brooklyn Russian toy shop owners, Morris Michtom and his wife, designed a cuddly toy  based on the cartoon and the Teddy Bear was born.

Image result for teddy bear cartoon original

Friday, November 13, 2015

Duane's Depressed by Larry McMurtry

Although I'd seen The Last Picture Show I'd never read any of Larry McMurtry's books, but spotted Duane's Depressed (the final volume of The Last Picture Show series) at a Friends of the Library sale.

The fictional setting of Thalia is based on Larry McMurtry's home town of Archer City. I didn't remember the characters of The Last Picture Show and so they were all new to me, but I didn't find it necessary to read the other books in the series first.

From the cover:
McMurtry brings the Thalia saga to an end with Duane confronting depression in the midst of plenty. Surrounded by his children, who all seem to be going through life crises involving sex, drugs and violence, his wife, Karla, who is wrestling with her own demons; and friends like Sonny, who seem to be dying, Duane can't seem to make sense of life anymore, and shocks his loves ones and the local countryside by giving up his pickup truck to go on foot . . .

My thoughts:
If you've ever lived in Texas you would instantly recognize each of the characters who seem to be resident in most small Texas towns. It was easy for me to picture the landscape around Duane's cabin. I loved the interaction with each of the characters and although Duane was trying to get away from everyone, he still drifted back to familiar friendships and family, while also trying to sever ties. Larry McMurtry's writing draws the reader in. Duane's Depression is going on my list of favorite reads for this year.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Walk the London Tube

Harry Beck Underground Map
If you've been to London and traveled on the underground (tube), you know that some of the stops can come up quite quickly. An underground map has been put together to show how many minutes it would take to walk by road from station to station. For example from St. James's Park to Victoria Station takes just 11 walking minutes (probably about half a mile). The underground map originally designed by Harry Beck is neither geographically correct nor does it show distance between stations according to a scale as in other maps, but it is much easier to follow than the original London Underground map.

You can view the map with walking distance here

Click on picture to view a larger image (Note, this may take some time to down load for those with lower speed facilities)
Original London Underground Map

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Body in the Thames by Susanna Gregory

The Body in the Thames is the first book I've read by Susanna Gregory and is part of the Thomas Chaloner Adventure series (I didn't find it necessary to read the previous ones first to pick up the story). Set during the reign of King Charles II and after the demise of Oliver Cromwell, Thomas Chaloner finds himself caught between the Dutch visitors who are visiting England for peace talks and the British who are clamoring for war against their Holland neighbors.

From the cover:
London swelters in a heatwave in the summer of 1664, and in the corridors of power the temperature is equally high as an outbreak of war with the Dutch threatens to become a reality. In the dilapidated surroundings of the Savoy Palace, a delegation from the government in the Netherlands is gathered in a last-ditch attempt to secure peace between the two countries. Thomas Chaloner, active in Holland during Cromwell's time, knows many of the delegates, including the sister of his late wife. . . .  Then the body of his former brother-in-law is found in the Thames and Chaloner discovers the dead man has left enigmatic clues as to the motive for his murder.

My thoughts:
I'm amazed at the detail Susanna Gregory gives the reader of the time period and customs and life in the indulgent London court. Although I spent my childhood and teenage years in London, I did like having a map to refer to showing locations during 1664 when the landscape was very different. Thomas Chaloner is an interesting character. She's definitely an author I will read more often.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Lost and Found by Marilyn Harris

I came across Lost and Found by Marilyn Harris at a Friends of the Library book sale.  It's a well woven story where lives are crossed during the post-Depression years, loved ones lose each other.  And with a backdrop of World War II, also touched on are the injustices of Japanese internment.

From the cover:
Unbeknownst to Belle, Martha would steadfastly continue to look for her lost child for thirty years. As Belle searches for her future in her past, and as her mother and stepbrother search for Belle, we move through the drama that was life in America. Lost and Found is a dramatic, absorbing story of love, acceptance, and belonging. But most of all, it is the story of persistence of the human heart to find its way back home.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

National Novel Writing Month

NaNoWriMoNational Novel Writing Month began on Sunday and I've been picking up tips from writers.

When  Peggy Noonan was asked if she listened to music while she wrote, she replied that she chose movie soundtracks because they are designed to move the story forward.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Fort Worth Oakwood Cemetery Saints and Sinners Tour

We visited Oakwood Cemetery last weekend for the annual Halloween Saints and Sinners Tour organized by the North Fort Worth Historical Society. Among the Oakwood Cemetery residents are cattle kings, oil barons, bankers and statesmen as well as soldiers and notable women. Founded in 1879, there are plenty of graves to view separated in some areas by Catholics, Protestants, Negroes, Whites, Union and Confederate soldiers. A few of the Loving family reside there too (you may remember them from Lonesome Dove).

The tour guide made several stops along the way where the grave residents were portrayed and their life story told, often with a humorous view. Well known local historian Richard Selcer played Jacob "Jake" Johnson who witnessed a gunfight between Luke Short and Jim Courtright outside the White Elephant Saloon. Other people portrayed were Lula Grammer and Nathaniel Grammer (a local druggist), DeWitt Clinton Pendery (famous for Pendery's Chili store), Richard Rocket (a firefighter), Andre Anderson (a Norwegian immigrant store owner), Sarah Morton (portrayed by her great-great granddaughter who shared stories of arriving in Fort Worth from the South).
Andre Anderson portrayed by David Hansford

DeWitt Clinton Pendery portrayed by John Pugh

Jake Johnson portrayed by Richard Selcer

Friday, October 30, 2015

The Magician's Lie by Greer MacAllister

The Magician's Lie by Greer MacAllister is set in the 1900s and opens with the death of a male thought to be at the hands of a female magician.

The story reminded me a little of Water for Elephants in a world of travelling entertainment. Greer MacAllister is a gifted writer and keeps the reader intrigued throughout the book. While most of the story is fiction, Ms. MacAllister did research the life of Adelaide Herrmann and inserted her as a character. The Iroquois Theater Fire was unfortunately a disaster where over 600 people died. In a world of magic, males dominated the field and a female magician was unusual for that time. I enjoyed the story and will be adding The Magician's Lie to my list of favorite reads for 2015. This would make a good book club read and a reading book guide can be found at the end of the novel.

From the cover:
The Amazing Arden is the most famous female illusionist of her day, renowned for her incredible trick of sawing a man in half onstage. One night in Waterloo, Iowa, with young policeman Virgil Holt watching from the audience, she swaps her trademark saw for a fire ax. Is it a new version of the illusion, or an all-too-real murder? When Arden's husband is found lifeless beneath the stage later that night, the answer seems clear. But when Virgil happens upon the fleeing magician and takes her into custody, she has a different story to tell.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Fort Worth Botanic Garden

In between sweltering hot, triple digit weather and the recent deluge of rain, there were a few lovely days when those across the Lone Star state headed outside. We visited the Botanic Gardens in Fort Worth, which is always a lovely place to stroll and admire the flowers. We stopped at the conservatory where tropical plants bloom in abundance.

Friday, October 23, 2015

A Bell for Adano by John Hersey

I picked up A Bell for Adano by John Hersey at a Friends of the Library event (a bargain at 10 cents). I hadn't heard of the author but most of you know, anything about Italy I usually grab. This was an interesting story about a small town in Italy during the time when the Americans arrived in Italy in 1944 during WWII.  Unlike the movie of the same name with it's foreboding music, A Bell for Adano is a humorous look at a village governed by an Italian-American immigrant from the U.S. Army. For the story, John Hersey used events surrounding the village of Licata in Sicily and Major Joppolo (the Allied Military Government Occupied Territory Officer) is fashioned from Major Frank Toscani whose similarities to Major Joppolo leave no doubt that he is the major character. However, Mr. Hersey added a little fiction which Major Toscani was not happy with. In the novel, Major Joppolo had an affair while in Adano. After sending Major Toscani an advance copy of A Bell for Adano, Major Toscani sued the author for libel, a case that was settled over dinner (or so the story goes).  John Hersey won the 1945 Pulitzer prize for A Bell for Adano.

The novel follows many events that happened during the war and after Nazi occupation. The people of the village were upset that the Fascists (Mussolini) had taken their 700 year old bell to be melted down for a cannon. They were left with a few small church bells and the town crier to alert emergencies and events. Major Joppolo immediately takes on the problems of the village, working toward getting everyone fed and to locate a bell that would replace the one that had been taken. He worked with the navy to allow fishing boats launched which had previously not been allowed. They marked out areas where they could fish without concern the fishermen would encounter mines. The people had lived through a decade of fascist rule followed by WWII and until Major Joppolo stepped in to organize them, they were despondent with little hope.

This one will be going on my list of favorites for this year.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Leonard's Department Store Museum

Tucked away on Carroll Street, near the Montgomery Ward Plaza (another Fort Worth building with a history) is the Leonard's Department Store Museum. The store was long gone when I arrived in Fort Worth in the early 1990s, but the subway was still running, which once led from the parking lot, through a tunnel and emerged below the Leonard's store. In the 1990s it was known as The Tandy Center with shops surrounding an ice rink. Downtown workers continued to use the free parking and the subway trains until it was closed around 2002. Entry to the museum is through the M&O Station Grill. I found the artifacts reminiscent of department stores I visited as a child and it was fun to browse.
The Leonards brothers were very influential around Fort Worth (the Jr. High School is named after them) and during the depression when banks were closed, Leonard's began printing its own store currency and minting coins. They cashed paychecks with a combination of store currency and cash so that people could purchase things they needed. At the time they were baking over 7,000 loaves of bread a day.
Before the Civil Rights Act the Leonards Brothers chose to desegregate and removed any signs separating races. One young black man was unaware that the cafeteria served people of all races and sent a letter to the Fort Worth Star Telegram stating that he intended to sit in the cafeteria until he was served. When he arrived he was surprised that he was welcomed and a cup of coffee sat waiting for him.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

I was surprised to find that Calling Me Home was a debut novel by Julie Kibler, not only is the story well written,
the prose keeps the reader enthralled. But be warned, you will need to keep a box of tissues handy, especially nearing the end of the novel. Some of the story came to mind for Ms. Kibler, when she discovered some of her family's past which obviously adds to the heart-wrenching story of two people in love of different races.

This book is going on my list of favorites for this year.

From the cover:
Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser, Dorrie Curtis. It's a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie to drop everything and driver her from her home in Texas to a funeral near Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why.
Dorrie, a black single mom fleeing problems of her own, wonders if she can unlock the mysteries of Isabelle's guarded past. She hardly hesitates before agreeing to Isabelle's request, never imagining it will be a journey that changes both their lives.

This would make a great book club read. Suggested discussion questions here.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Love Charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel

The Love Charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel follows the lives of authors in the midst of the London bombing who found the war exhilarating in a hedonistic way. Henry Yorke (whose nom de plume was Henry Green), Elizabeth BowenGraham GreeneHilde Spiel, and Rose Macaulay lived in both fear and apprehension during WWII when bombers covered the skies of London some dropping as many as 1,000 incendiary bombs. Ms. Feigel gleaned information from letters, newspapers, magazine articles, and quotes from the authors' books and journals. Many authors used their experiences to write novels:
Life Among the English
The Last September (this is also a movie)
Troubles from the Point of an Anglo-Irish Family
Ministry of Fear
Their relief at dodging the bombs (although many, like Rose Maccauley, lost a home and treasured books and letters as a result) gave them a "live for today" attitude and many took lovers.
By March 1941 over 33,000 civilians were killed in air raids.

My thoughts:
At over 400 pages, I found the book to be tedious in places. I also found it difficult to follow the many affairs.  I did appreciate the research into London during the war and it's difficult to comprehend living through the nightly bombardments. The London air raids were thought to exacerbate Virginia Woolf's nervous breakdowns leading to her suicide. I was also surprised to learn that Ireland remained neutral and Winston Churchill blamed Ireland for the loss of many ships that had to return to England for refueling when they were not able to refuel on the coast of Ireland. The brave Irish soldiers who chose to fight with Britain were blacklisted when they returned home

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Raising Positive Kids by Zig Ziglar

I found Zig Ziglar's book Raising Positive Kids in a Negative World at a YMCA book sale. Although the book is a bit outdated (he recommends watching the Cosby Show as a good traditional family value show) he has lots of advice for raising positive kids.
His kids jump in at the end of the book with things that could have been done differently and things he and his wife did right.
They didn't like their parents saying "no" and not giving a reason. They felt decisions to relocate did not take into account how it affected the children (he admits some moves could have been avoided). Financial difficulties were glossed over which caused worry for the children when they didn't understand if what they had overheard meant they would lose everything.
On the positive side, they appreciated being taught right from wrong, that their parents did not use improper language. They were taught courteous responses and to respect their elders and take personal responsibility.
Above all, Zig Ziglar tells parents to be aware of the example they are setting for children. Telling children to lie for them (asking them to say you are not at home when someone calls when you are) will teach the children to lie to their parents.
There's lots of good advice for raising children to be positive adults and learn how to be successful.