Saturday, April 30, 2011

Review: To End All Wars by Adam Hochschild

To End All Wars I received this book from Amazon Vine, chosen because although I've read much about World War II and have long known its cause was directly related to the first world war, I didn't actually know much about World War I. I also have a personal connection in that my husband's father was in the British Army, a veteran of the Boer War and World War I who apparently was emotionally as well as physically wounded in both. Now I understand his story much better.

One caveat I must point out is that Hochschild wrote this book with an agenda. He believes WW I was unnecessarily provoked, accomplished nothing but the destruction of Europe and loss of a generation of young men, and that it caused WW II. For that reason, his book relates British military issues before and during the war. The concentration here is not on battles, military maneuvers, etc. but predominantly the people, the hawks and the anti-war protestors. Even though he is admittedly biased in his narration, he does have the facts to back up his beliefs and therefore the book is well worth reading.

One revelation that bothered me, but didn't surprise me, was that when Great Britain desperately needed the type of high grade optical instruments (binoculars, gunsites, etc.) that they had previously purchased from Germany, they approached the enemy through a neutral country and set up a deal to buy them. In return, Germany got the rubber it desperately needed for tires but hadn't been able to smuggle through the British blockade. Astounding!

Another point is that simple barbed wire invented by an Illinois farmer was the best military weapon used in the war. That explains why for two years plus the two sides sat in waterlogged trenches in Flanders unable to advance. It was only the invention of tanks that overcame this obstacle.

There is an excellent discussion of why Germany felt compelled to conduct a U-boat (submarine) war on merchant ships despite the knowledge that it would surely bring the U.S. into the war. Also, the effect of the Russian Revolution on the war.

I found this to be a very readable book and fascinating in its dissection of British Army intransigence in the face of changing warfare. I highly recommend To End All Wars.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Warning: Birds at Work

Lately we've had a crew of these birds of the woodpecker family hard at work in our yard. They're aerating the ground as they work like little jackhammers to find worms, bugs, whatever they want to eat. Our yard must be particularly full of goodies this year since we'll see 8 or 10 of the birds at any one time in the side yard, plus a few scattered around the front and back yards.

I like the distinct markings of yellow-shafted flickers. Very easy to recognize and large enough to spot at a distance. They're as big as a robin, maybe a little bigger actually.

Yesterday I saw something rare for our place, two bluebirds. Hope they will stay. We do have a house for them but the swallows usually grab it quickly. Speaking of swallows, the purple martin house is filling up and I presume we'll soon be fighting the battle to keep barn swallows from building a nest in the rafters on the inner part of our patio. They make too much of a mess to let them alone, and last year although we gave up on keeping them out, it was so hot up there that the two babies died.

Maybe Scaredy Cat will scare them away. She's hanging out on the patio more and more.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Farewell to a Hero

Grete Waitz died last Tuesday, April 19, at the age of 57. She had been diagnosed with cancer in 2005. I knew she had been absent from the world of marathons but simply supposed she retired. Perhaps she had gone back to teaching school, I thought. She and her husband had homes in Oslo, Norway, her home country, and in Gainesville, Florida.

There aren't many people I admire enough to call my hero, but Grete was definitely one of the few. I used to run, years ago before my arthritis became too troublesome to do so. I didn't compete, in fact never ran more than a couple miles a day, but I ran enough to be totally awed by someone who ran like Grete did.

Dave and I went to the New York City Marathon for years. New York is a different place on that Sunday, magical even. I remember at first we watched from First Avenue where the runners came over the bridge into Manhattan, and then we would walk for a ways enjoying the volunteers, the cheers of the crowd, and the runners. Later we watched from along Central Park and the last couple years from near the finish line in the park. It was a fun day when people didn't push and shove, everyone chatted about where they lived, whether they had someone in the race, and the weather.

We always knew when Grete was approaching. You first heard a loud cheer for the male runner in the lead, then lower volume cheering, and finally a loud roar that told us the leading woman was passing people several blocks away. Usually, in the years we were there, it was Grete and people loved her. She made running look so easy, but I knew different.

In 1984 we traveled to California for the summer Olympics and one morning we were in Santa Monica to see the end of the women's marathon. I remember climbing onto a lamp post to see over people. That year we were cheering for Joan Benoit Samuelson; after all my husband's home state is Maine. We were thrilled though that Grete came in second. I see Joan has responded to news of Grete's death by saying she has lost her mentor.

I have lost a hero but I'll never forget her beautiful stride, her humbleness in victory, and her grace at the 1984 Olympics.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Review: House of Silence by Linda Gillard

HOUSE OF SILENCE I've just finished reading House of Silence and I'm blown away. The book has been published for Kindle and I don't have one, so Gillard kindly furnished me with a copy I could download and read on my computer. This process took a while because it was a little hard on aging eyes, but I'm so glad I read it. (And by the way, Linda, I'm definitely in the Marek camp.)

In the beginning we are introduced to a young woman named Gwen who works as a theatrical wardrobe mistress. She meets a charming actor named Alfie and they become lovers. Gwen had a pretty awful childhood and has no family, so when Alfie tells her he must go home for Christmas although he hates it every year, she talks him into taking her along. She pictures a lovely family Christmas with all the food and traditions she imagines a country house family in England must enjoy. And so they go off to Creake Hall. Love the name.

Gwen meets his mother, a famous writer of children's books who seems to be suffering from some type of senility, and Alfie's four sisters. Then she meets the gardener who is called Tyler. Mother can't remember names of gardeners so every time they hire a new one, he is called Tyler after the last one she remembers. Actually his name is Marek and he lives in the old mill on the property. All of these interesting characters seem to have secrets, in fact Gwen is the only character whose life is an open book. "Oh the tangled web we weave . . ."

Trying to figure out the truth about everyone is delightful fun, especially in the case of dark handsome Marek, who had been a psychiatrist, and Hattie, the youngest sister. Hattie is a quilter; she and Gwen become fast friends over needle and thread.

I did have a little trouble getting into the story, but that problem can be explained most likely by my reading it on the computer. That's one of the many reasons I have resisted buying a Kindle. Once I got well acquainted with the characters, though, I was hooked. Gillard has a talent for creating such believable characters that they seem like old friends. Nothing they do is out of character and they talk like real people talk. I'll be thinking about them for quite a while.

Another thing I like is that she includes a final chapter that explains what happened after the denouement of the plot. Not only that, it all makes perfect sense. As usual with Gillard's work, I highly recommend this although I do wish the powers that be would stop referring to her books as romance novels because they are so much more.

Review: Radio Shangri-La by Lisa Napoli

Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth I selected this book from Amazon Vine because I don't know much of anything about Bhutan and since the author lived and worked there, rather than vacationing, I thought she would give me an open-eyed view of the people, the government, and the landscape.

Since I have an ARC copy, there are no photographs and I can't see from amazon's website that there are any in the published book either. I hope I'm wrong because it really needs pictures of Bhutan, her friends there, and herself.

Napoli went to Bhutan in 2007 when she was 40 and going through a bit of a midlife crisis, wondering if she should have stayed married, had children, and lived a more "normal" life. As it was, she had worked at CNN, NPR, and other radio outlets, and was at that time working in Los Angeles in radio. She was originally from New York City but had lived many places. As a result, she had friends all over, many of them close friends she kept in touch with. It was one of her friends who introduced her to someone who got her a volunteer consulting position with a new radio station in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, and she was off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Now she has friends there as well. She has been back many times and the end of the book is quite sad as she relates the modernizing changes that have come to Bhutan. Along the way, Napoli came to terms with her own life and realized what it is she needs to do to feel truly fulfilled.

I enjoyed learning more about Bhutan, including exactly where it is. This is the country that values its "happiness quotient" rather than its GNP. The people didn't get television until a few years ago; the unfortunate result is that they believe all of us in the U.S. live in huge, posh homes like the characters on "Desperate Housewives." They found it hard to believe that we aren't all rich and that Napoli's L.A. apartment wasn't much bigger than her digs in Bhutan. As it opens to the West, perhaps some of those misperceptions will be made clear, but they are certainly paying a price.

I recommend this book, but it won't be on my list of favorite reads for the year.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It's Spring in Philadelphia

Friday we took a quick trip down to Philadelphia for a Parkinson's seminar. It was a chance to get away (just overnight, but still . . .) and to escape our dreary, wet, cold weather.

Strange but every time we take the northern spur of the PA Turnpike, the weather is different on one side of the Lehigh Tunnel than it is on the other. I know the tunnel goes through a mountain ridge, but it's like entering a new region entirely. This time it was early, early spring on the northern side of the tunnel, more like mud season, and definitely spring on the southern side.

What an encouraging sight - blooming dogwood, magnolia, crabapple and other trees. Daffodils everywhere, along with forsythia, tulips, hyacinth, a few crocuses left, lilac, and other flowers. The grass is a lot greener in Philadelphia even though it was chilly and quite windy Friday and Saturday.

Speaking of Saturday, we hated to come out on the north side of the tunnel on our way home. Sure enough, rain and heavy gusts of wind greeted us and lasted all the way to our house. Last night I thought the roof would blow away the wind was so hard. Couldn't get the cat to come in though. I guess she made her way across the street to the barn. This morning she looks a little mussed up; the wind-blown casual look you know.

Good news for those who travel Route I-81 in northeastern Pennsylvania! Bingham's at the Lenox exit is just about ready to reopen. (An arson fire last year burned the old restaurant to the ground.) We saw cooks and waitresses stopping in to get their schedules as a crew was getting ready to pave the parking lot Friday. If you've never stopped in, Bingham's has a wonderful menu with meals from broiled seafood to comfort foods like mac 'n cheese, but most people love the place for it's home baked goods: especially breads and pies. They have the best, probably most fattening, homemade granola in the world. End of commercial.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Review: T is for Trespass by Sue Grafton

T is for Trespass (Kinsey Millhone Mysteries) If you've been here before, you know I'm a huge fan of Sue Grafton's alphabet series. This is the first time I read one out of order, but I've already read and reviewed U. Then I found T at the library.

T is for Trespass is different than most of her other novels. It concerns the man who lives next door to Kinsey Millhone and Henry, her landlord. Gus is the neighborhood crank, a man impossible to like and therefore frequently tormented by neighborhood teenagers. He doesn't like anybody, but he does tolerate 88 year old Henry and sometimes even Kinsey. Then one day Gus falls in his living room, dislocating his shoulder and bruising himself all over. Kinsey hears him yelling, Henry has a key to Gus' house, and they save him.

Then the hospital won't discharge him unless he has help at home. His only relative, a niece, reluctantly comes from New York and hires a caretaker. She has Kinsey do a quick background check and the woman seems qualified and nice enough so she's hired.

Solana Rojas is not who she seems to be though. She has assumed another woman's identity complete with better nursing qualifications. Her motive? Everything Gus owns. Throughout the story the reader knows what's going on but Kinsey doesn't for a while. Meanwhile Kinsey is investigating a traffic accident which doesn't seem to have happened the way the insurance company has been told, and searching for a witness who could tell her the truth.

By the end of the book both Kinsey and Henry are in terrible danger. One scene in fact had me literally on the edge of my seat I was so frightened for her. You can never go wrong with Sue Grafton. Her novels are always engrossing, well plotted, and full of superbly drawn characters. I highly recommend T is for Trespass.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Review: The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman

The Girl in the Green Raincoat: A Tess Monaghan Novel I seem to be on a Laura Lippman kick lately. This book is actually a novella, a 158 page fun read that is quite unusual for Lippman even though it is a part of the Tess Monaghan series. My copy says "available for the first time in book form."

The story begins with a very pregnant Tess confined to a chaise lounge in her sunroom by a diagnosis of pre-eclampsia and a close call with a miscarriage. Baby Daddy Crow is happily doing his best imitation of Martha Stewart, cooking and keeping house, while harping at Tess to "stay put" and not to work. Since she is fascinated by the people walking their dogs in the park next to her house, he brings her binoculars and she does her imitation of "Rear Window."

Every day a young woman in a celery green raincoat walks an Italian greyhound wearing an identically colored raincoat. The woman talks on a cell phone constantly while the dog prances in front of her and for some reason Tess finds them interesting. Then one evening the dog runs back out by itself and Tess never sees the woman again. Certain something terrible has happened to her, Tess sets out to solve the mystery - to Crow''s horror.

Tess' new employee Mrs. Blossom who resembles her name and best friend Whitney help in the investigation. As she gets involved, her house begins to take on a Grand Central Station atmosphere, and since she must leave the door unlocked (Crow would kill her if she got up to answer it), she's wide open to danger.

I was fooled by the story, but then I was a little busy laughing at the characters and the antics of the dogs, hers plus the little greyhound, and I kept hoping she wouldn't lose the baby. Want to know how it all came out? You'll just have to read this charming little novella for yourself.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Thoughts on Self-Publishing

I'm reading a book by a local author that she self-published and I'm discovering that this book is one of the reasons people shy away from self-published books. I won't name the author or the book; you probably wouldn't find it near you anyway.

This writer had a good idea for a mystery and I love the fact that it is set in this area. I can recognize not only local places but some of her characters are of a type I recognize. Two, in fact, are people I know, and the author has simply changed something about them. For instance, she made one woman heavier and older but she has the same job in the book that she has in real life.

The problem is in the telling of the story. Too much detail, as in having a character walk into an office where she has an appointment and we go through introductions, description of the office and the people, etc. before we finally get down to the business of the appointment. The woman is from New York City and at first is consistently negative about moving here, then she is frightened by the remoteness of the house they buy since she will be alone during the week, and finally she grows a spine and decides she has to solve the mystery of a murder that happened there. The realtor doesn't want to sell the house which has been empty for years and her personality is too obvious, too exaggerated.

Maybe the author heard the same thing I did when I moved here. Locals told me that if you wanted to commit a murder, you should do it here because you would certainly get away with it. One of the murders they told me about has since gone to trial and the murderer convicted, but the other one (if it really happened) is still a cold case and not being investigated. Never was, in fact. The murder in the story happened ten years ago and is still unsolved, but everyone suspects one man.

Anyway, I'm still reading the book because I feel like I need to give it more of a chance, but I resent the fact that this kind of book makes it more difficult for other self-publishers to sell good books. I self-published one of my own books because it had a limited audience and wouldn't sell enough copies for a publisher to take it on. It's a hard way to get your work out in the marketplace even though it is more common now than it has ever been. I was hoping that this was one I could help publicize but . . .

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

House of Silence, Linda Gillard's New E-Book is Available Now

I just want to alert Linda Gillard fans that her new e-book House of Silence is out and available in Kindle version from Since I don't have a Kindle, she was kind enough to provide me with a version I could read on my computer.

I haven't read it yet due to other promised reviews, but will read it just as soon as I get a chance. I'm looking forward to it, as I assume everyone else will be.

Meanwhile, congratulations to Linda Gillard. It's selling very well in the UK so far.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Review: Cold Wind by C. J. Box

Cold Wind (A Joe Pickett Novel) I won Cold Wind from LibraryThing and I wish I had realized it was a series when I entered the contest. I simply thought it sounded like a good story that I would enjoy, and I did enjoy it despite not being familiar with the characters.

The murder in this book is unique and sets the tone for the book. Set in Wyoming with its wide open spaces and ridges where the wind blows nearly all the time, a wealthy landowner who happens to be Joe Pickett's latest father-in-law is installing 100 wind turbines. Now I'm in favor of wind power myself so I first thought this was a great idea. The only problem was that someone had murdered the landowner and chained his body to one of the spinning blades. Now that's a new one on me.

Almost immediately Joe's mother-in-law is arrested for the murder of her fifth husband. Joe Pickett is a game warden who has never liked his mother-in-law but it just seems too pat that they would arrest her so quickly. The woman is a conniving gold digger for sure but there is a lot more to the story than first thought.

For those of you who know the series, you'll also catch up with what's happened to Joe's friend Nate and his girlfriend. The cast of characters in this small Wyoming town is more varied than you would think.

As I have said, I'm in favor of wind power, but in the course of the story I learned the other side of the issue and it did make an impression on me. What's wrong with it in this book is the vast amount of money to be made on a renewable energy project and how little oversight is in place. Certainly sets up a lot of potential for corruption.

Now I'm going to read the rest of the series, hopefully from the beginning, because I really like Joe and his wife and daughters. I can understand Nate as well and I look forward to getting to know these people much better. I recommend Cold Wind highly.