Wednesday, November 22, 2017

True Experiences with Ghosts

Edited by Martin Ebon

The editor gathered several ghost stories that he believed were true, unexplainable events.
One of the stories concerns Ocean Born Mary. According to the story and to information I found online, Ocean Born Mary was a real person. Her parents were traveling to America by boat when the boat was intercepted by a pirate. He planned to pillage the boat and kill all aboard, when he heard a newborn baby crying. Going to investigate, he found the captain's wife and her tiny baby, who was born on board the boat. He was charmed and promised to spare everyone is the new mother would name her baby Mary, after the pirate's wife. She agreed and the pirate left the boat. He later returned with a bolt of expensive green  silk cloth which he gave to baby Mary to made into a wedding gown when she grew up and married.
All this part of the story of Ocean Born Mary are true to that point. But then the author of the story, Louis Roy, starts making stuff up. He bought a house in the town where Mary spent her old age which he then claimed was haunted by her and by the pirate who befriended her. He claimed the house was built by the pirate and that Mary moved into it to be his companion and housekeeper. He claimed the pirate died and was buried there along with his pirate treasure. He further claimed many people had seen or experienced many uncanny and eerie things on the property and in the house, which he also claimed was filled with Mary's original furniture.
But there is a site online, by the local historical society, that totally debunks all of Roy's claims. The house was built by one of Mary's sons, not by a pirate. Mary never lived in the house, she lived in a nearby house with one of her other sons and, at the time, she was quite elderly, in her seventies. Her furniture was never in the house, since she never lived there. The pirate also never lived there and was never part of Mary's life beyond that first encounter. Roy made all the haunting nonsense up and charged people admission to the house and property. The details can be found at Henniker Historical Society website: http://www.hennikerhistory.org/obmary.htm.
Since this story was so thoroughly and easily debunked. it casts doubt on the veracity of the other stories in the book. I am inclined to believe it is all a bunch of made up nonsense. The one proven false story taints all the other stories, I am sorry to say.
But besides all that, it just wasn't a very interesting book. It cloaks itself in scientific & scholarly terms but, although the editor might have intended it to add weight to the book, it merely makes it dull.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Yearling

By Marjorie Rawlings

Ora and Ezra, know as Penny, with their only child, young Jody, are poor farmers in rural Florida. They have a lot of problems with their no-account neighbors, the Forresters who have been stealing their pigs.
One day, while out searching for the missing pigs, Penny gets bit on the arm by a rattlesnake.  So he shoots a doe and uses her liver as a poultice to draw out the poison. But the doe had a young fawn and Jody adopts the little orphan fawn. His parents understand his compassion but know that this will just lead to problems in the future.
Jody loves the little fawn and names him Flag. They grow up together. But Flag grows up a lot faster and, as predicted by the parents, having a growing deer on the property is just causing too many problems for a family struggling just to get by. Some hard decisions are going to have to be made, whether Jody is ready to make them or not.

I really enjoyed this story a lot, even given its heartbreaking elements. This is a sad story and one in which we wish the impossible could, for once, become possible. But it never does, it never does.
This novel is the Pulitzer Prize winner for 1939. It a tremendous read and well worth it.

See also, Kirkus Reviews:  https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/marjorie-kinnan-rawlings-3/the-yearling-2/?utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_term=&utm_campaign=DSA.


The Store

By T.S. Stribling

This is the story of Miltiades Vaiden of Alabama of the 1880s. Vaiden was a Civil War veteran, former leader of the KKK and, since the South was freed, not prospering like he feels he should. He feels he is a Southern Gentleman of the Old South and he longs for those days to return, a time he thinks of as a kind of Eden. Of course, it wasn't an Eden for the slaves, but Vaiden is not accustomed to thinking of black people as human beings. They are property and as such have no equal standing with their former owners. A view that is held by 99.99% of the whites in the South at the time.
Vaiden was swindled by a store owner, Mr. Handback. When he sees an opportunity to swindle Handback and enrich himself in the process, he seizes upon it. With the result that Vaiden becomes wealthy and Handback is driven into financial ruin. The whole town knows what Vaiden did and holds it against him. But being rich has it rewards and he is eventually forgiven and welcomed back into the social ranks, especially after fixing up a mansion in town and making donations to the building of a fancy new church. He even ends up marrying the beautiful young daughter of the woman who left him at the altar when he was a younger man. Seems like everything is going his way, finally. Until his only child, his only son, is murdered at the hands of an enraged mob, a son he only found out about as he rushed to save him from the lynch mob.

The Store is the second book in the Vaiden triology. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1933. It deals very frankly with the racism of the Old South. And lays out, in painful detail, white attitudes to blacks among them. Must reading for anyone who is ignorant of or dismisses the history of slavery in the United States.
But other than that, I am sorry to say that I found the book dull. It was a plain chore to finish it. I am not going to say it was a bad read, but it just didn't engage me the way I want when I read a novel. For one thing, it is a long book, almost 600 pages long. Frankly, I got bored with it and just wanted it to be over.
Also, one thing that annoyed me from the very beginning of the story was the author's constant ragging on Vaiden's fat wife. The author calls her fat, shapeless, overflowing, heavy, fleshy and on and on. He can never mention her without reminding the reader that she is fat. OK, we get it, she's fat! Give it a rest, man!
Here is something I thought was little funny. But whether the author was poking fun too, I don't know. Anyway, two white people are commenting on the odd names that black people choose. The name they are laughing at is Toussaint. Meanwhile their names are Miltiades and Sydna :-).

See also, Reading the Pulitzer Winners for Fiction:  https://pulitzernovels.wordpress.com/2014/10/05/1933-the-store-by-t-s-stribling/.


Thursday, November 09, 2017

The Egg and I

By Betty MacDonald

A fictionalized version of Betty's life on a chicken farm in western Washington state in the late 1920s.
Newlyweds Betty and  Bob pooled their money and bought a rural acreage, intending to get in the chicken egg business. The property did have a house and few outbuildings and an orchard of mixed fruit trees. The house, while sturdy, had no modern comforts, no electricity, no bathroom, no furnace, no indoor plumbing. All their water had to be hauled in and heated in a stove in the kitchen, said stove being their main source of heat for the house. (Betty never mentions a fireplace or other wood burning stove, so I assume there was only the kitchen stove.) Laundry had to be done by hand. All the hot water had to be heated on the kitchen stove. In the winter, all the laundry had to be dried inside, as winter there was mostly rainy. Plus Betty had to help Bob with his work on the acreage, building chicken houses, pens for livestock, clearing the land for crops and gardens and clearing the orchard of unwanted trees and brush. They got up at 4 AM and worked all day and Betty had all the housework and food preparation too. And it wasn't too much longer before there was a little baby to take care of also.
So it was a hard life, very demanding, but Betty tells her story with humor and self-deprecation. Unfortunately, some of her humor comes across as looking down on the locals, whom she describes as ignorant, unenlightened, and, in some cases, lazy and dirty. She especially singles out her next door neighbors, the Kettles. And she has harsh words for the local native peoples, about whom she says:
"...the more I saw of them the more I thought what an excellent thing it was to take that beautiful country away from them."
Oddly though, she goes on to comment about the devastation to the land caused by logging:
"On the way we passed barren ugly hills which had once been beautiful green mountains and saw mile after mile of slashings [logging areas], ugly, dry as tinder and inexcusable." 
Never seems to occur to her that if the native peoples she despised were still in charge of the land, the mountains would be pristine and green instead of stripped bare.

The book, which was written in the early 1940s, has an interesting passage about abortion:
"One day when Bob and I were driving to Town, a man hailed us. We stopped and he climbed on the running board and leaned into the car confidentially. 'Say,' he said, 'heard you was that way.' 'Yes,' I said, 'I am.' The man leaned in farther so his face was uncomfortably close to mine. 'Just say the word and I'll fix you up. Drop by some evening with six dollars and I'll fix you good as new. Not a thing to it,' he said winking at Bob. 'Took care of Mrs. Smith when she was six months along and got rid of three for my own wife at three months. Just a plain old-fashioned buttonhook. Nothing to it.'
'Oh, him!' said the girl in the doctor's office in town. 'His wife's in the hospital right now recovering from her last abortion. We get his work in here all the time,' and she laughed heartily. I didn't think it was funny. 'Why don't they stop him? Why don't they arrest him?'
The girl sighed and looked out the window. 'If it wasn't him it would be someone else. If they can't find someone else to do it they abort themselves. The hospital's full of 'em all the time. Buttonhooks, bailing wire, hatpins. God, they're dumb.'
Just a little reminder of what abortion was like back before it was a woman's right to choose.

Literay Ladies' Guide review: http://www.literaryladiesguide.com/book-reviews/the-egg-and-i-by-betty-macdonald-1946-a-review/.

Friday, November 03, 2017

The Sugar Queen

By Sarah Addison Allen

Josey is the only child of a successful entrepreneur. Her father revitalized the small town when he built built a ski lodge on the slopes of the nearby mountain. As a result, he was looked up to and admired by the townsfolk.
Josey was only nine years old when he died and her view of her father is a bit clouded by her childish hero worship of him. Now in her late twenties, Josey still lives at home, serving as a sort of companion to her elderly mother. As a child, Josey was a pill, prone to temper tantrums, stealing, and breaking things. She was so wild, her parents kept her home and hired tutors for her instead of sending her to school. But after her father died, Josey changed her ways and became quiet and submissive, blaming herself for her mother's seeming dislike of her only child. Josey's only act of independence and rebellion is a stash of goodies (candy, cookies, chips) hidden behind a panel in her closet.
One morning Josey wakes up to find a strange woman hiding in her closet. The woman, Della Lee, pleads with Josey to be allowed to hide in the closet and Josey gives in. In fact, she goes to Della's house and gets some clothes and stuff for her, nearly getting caught by Della's psycho boyfriend, Julian.
Della Lee continues to hide in the closet and gradually leads Josey into discovering some truths about herself, her father, her mother and about Della Lee too. Josey is finally able to face her dreams and enter into the life she has wanted for a very long time.

This was a good story, with a touch of fantasy, as is quickly revealed in the first few pages by this sentence about the South American maid that works for Josey's mother:

But the first day she was sent off to the market with a grocery list, she spent two hours crying on the front porch, her tears falling into the flower pots where mysterious South American tropical flowers later sprouted without explanation.

Publishers Weekly review: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-553-80549-9.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Irresistible

By Mary Balogh

Sophie has a secret and unfortunately she is being blackmailed because of it. It isn't even her secret, it is her dead husband's secret. But to protect his reputation and his family, Sophie has been paying the blackmail.
She is not a wealthy woman and the blackmailer keeps demanding more and more money. She may even have to sell her modest home to buy his silence. She does sell her wedding ring and her pearls, the only valuable jewelry she owns.
Living quietly in London, she suddenly finds her social horizons expanding when the "Four Horsemen" reenter her life. Four friends of her husband, they had all fought in the war together but had gone their separate ways afterward. But they have all come to London for the season for various reasons.
Sophie always had a bit of a crush on one the four, Nathaniel. So now that she is a widow and he is looking for love in all the wrong places, it is not too long before they are in an intimate relationship. They have decided that no strings will be attached. She is lonely, he is lonely and together they will ease their desires. But Sophie's financial problems and her rather irrational scruples are going to ruin everything.

This was an OK read. I suppose sexual promiscuity was not all that rare back in the 1700s and 1800s.  People will do what people like to do, that is for sure, no matter how much religion and society may frown upon it. But reading about sexual antics does not appeal to me. I have enjoyed Regency romance novels since I was a kid, but these writers nowadays always have to thrown in detailed descriptions of sexual acts. Writers used to be able to tell a romance story without the characters ripping their clothes off and hopping into bed together. I miss that.

Dear Author review: http://dearauthor.com/book-reviews/overall-b-reviews/b-minus-reviews/review-irresistible-by-mary-balogh/.



Scepter of the Ancients

By Derek Landy

Stephanie was only twelve years old when her favorite uncle died and left her virtually all of his estate. Her uncle was a very successful author of novels of magic and monsters.
Her first night in the her uncle's house, a man broke in and tried to kill her, demanding a key from her, a key she knew nothing about. But Skulduggery Pleasant arrived just in time to send the intruder packing.
Skulduggery Pleasant isn't a normal guy. He is a skeleton and a mage and a detective. And right now he is on the hunt for a magical item, the Scepter of the Ancients. He believes that Stephanie's dead uncle knew something about it and maybe even had the scepter in his possession.
Some time in the past a war had occurred between the mages and a truce had been entered upon. But now someone is trying to acquire the Scepter and break the truce and bring about the end of the world as we know it.
All this magic and mages and wars are news to Stephanie and she is smitten. And thanks to the death of her uncle, she is now totally involved in a new world of magic and monsters and deadly threats and she loves it.

This was an OK read, a bit too juvenile for my taste, though. I was really hoping for something a lot more whimsical. But instead it was just another story of bad magicians vs good magicians. Teen and older kids would probably like it and enjoy the rather obvious jokes about Skulduggery being a skeleton.

Rated Reads review: http://ratedreads.com/scepter-of-the-ancients-skulduggery-pleasant-book-1/.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Off the Grid

By C.J. Box

Nate Romanowski and his girl friend are living in a cabin on a ranch owned by a friend. They have no electricity and no telephone and are living "off the grid." This is because Nate is a wanted fugitive by the federal government. But when the girl friend has to call her gravely ill mother, Nate is back in the government's sights. And it isn't long after the girl friend goes off the visit her mother that the agents show up.
They have a deal to offer Nate. If he will do an investigation for them of a site in the back country of Wyoming, they will wipe his record clean and he can live like a normal person once again. So he agrees.
The feds want to know what is going on at an old abandoned ranch in the Red Desert of Wyoming. A gang of possible terrorists in up to something and they want Nate to take care of it. But when Nate tracks down the gang, it turns out he has more in common with the leader's plans and goals than he does with the people who sent him there.
Meanwhile, his old friend Joe Pickett, the game warden, has been given a heads up by the Governor that Nate might be headed for trouble. He sends Joe to the same area to figure out what the feds are up to as he feels they are overstepping their bounds and he doesn't like it.

This was a very interesting, exciting book as the reader roots for the good guys and hopes for the worst for the bad guys. And the terrorist plot is very scary and unsettling.

Publishers Weekly review: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-399-17660-9.

Maisie Dobbs

By Jacqueline Winspear

Maisie Dobbs was a young teen when her mother died.  Her dad was devastated by his wife's death but he could see that Maisie was trying her best to replace her mom, keeping house, preparing meals, running errands. It was not the life he wanted for his daughter so her found her a job as a maid in the home of a wealthy lord and lady.
It wasn't long before her employers realized Maisie had a keen intellect that would be wasted in a life of drudgery. So they very generously provided for her to be educated, while continuing to earn her keep with her maid chores. She even eventually went to college.
Before she could start her new life as an adult, World War I broke out and she  trained as nurse and was sent to France.
Back in London after recovering from a serious war wound, Maisie decided to strike out on her own as an investigator. One of her first cases involved a man who was worried that his wife was cheating on him. It didn't take Maisie long to discover that the wife was not cheating but was visiting the grave of a man she had a crush on as a little girl. Maisie gave the husband some good advice about how to help his wife and bring their marriage back onto solid ground.
The dead man had become involved with a private asylum for gravely wounded soldiers. One of the requirements of the asylum was that those who entered it turn over their financial assets to the asylum to help cover the costs of running it. But when she visited the asylum, it seemed the residents were happy and contented and the man in charge seemed dedicated and compassionate.
But now her wealthy patrons' son was planning to enter the asylum and her patrons were worried that he was making a mistake handing his money over to the asylum chief.  Maisie enlisted a friend to enter the asylum and what he discovered was not the sanctuary it claimed to be.

This was a good story and the first in a series of 14 books (so far).

Kirkus Review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/jacqueline-winspear/maisie-dobbs/.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

All Clear

By Connie Willis

The sequel to Blackout,  finds the time travelers stuck back in 1940s Britain in the thick of World War II. Their job now is to survive and hope that someday the people back in Oxford of the future will figure out their plight and send someone to rescue them. Surviving is the problem, with bombs falling on London and Britain, no place is truly safe.
Polly and Eileen have jobs as sales clerks. Mike finds them but he gets cut off from them trying in vain to find other time travelers in the area. Eileen discovers that Binnie and Alf are living on the streets after their mother died and she takes them under her wing. Both she and Polly get involved in Sir Godfrey's amateur theatrics and it nearly costs Polly her life. Mr Dunworthy, their boss from the Oxford Future comes back to save them only find himself trapped in the past too.
Now it is all upon a teenage boy in Oxford Future with a huge crush on Polly to try to locate them in time and effect a rescue. Before Hitler manages to blow them all to bits.

While not as exciting as the first book, still this is a good read, about missed connections and odd coincidences. And if you are smart enough and have a really good memory, (unlike me) you may be able to figure out the direction of the story. It is all laid out in the end and tied neatly together. Which makes for a tidy and slightly unsatisfying end, as one of the most interesting characters in the story **spoiler alert** doesn't make it out alive.

Check out The Guardians review: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2011/nov/16/all-clear-connie-willis-review.

The Chemist

By Stephenie Meyer

She was called Juliana until she found herself in the crosshairs of a corrupt government agency. Now she sleeps with one eye open and a pocketful of fake identities. Currently going by the alias Alex, she is a young, brilliant scientist, best at what she did for the government, but apparently someone decided she knew too much and needed to be silenced.
Alex hates her new life on the run, never trusting anyone, always looking for her assassin. So when her old boss tracks her down and promises to call off the dogs if she will do one last job for him, against her better judgment, she agrees, pressured by the desire for a normal life and by the even stronger desire to prevent a terrorist from releasing a virulent, deadly disease upon the nation.
Her old boss points Alex in the right direction and she is able to locate the terrorist. But he just doesn't look like the kind of man who would be a mass-murderer. In fact, he seems kind, gentle and basically decent. (Also very good-looking.)
So she kidnaps the man, Daniel, using her particular set of unique skills and interrogates him. But no torture she inflicts upon with her chemical potions is able to get him to confess where he has stashed the deadly disease. And he continuously denies any knowledge of anything about a disease, insisting he is a just an ordinary guy who teaches school for a living. The interrogation is interrupted by hired killer who crashes her torture session to rescue Daniel. Turns out the new guy is Daniel's black-ops twin brother Kevin whom Daniel thought was deceased. And he is highly upset that Alex is torturing his brother. In the struggle that follows, Alex's hidden defenses take Kevin (and his killer dog) down and she is able to secure him and his dog.
Like Alex, Kevin used to work for the government and then became a liability. His old boss and her old boss got together and hatched a scheme that would have the two of them efficiently eliminate each other. Poor Daniel was nothing but a pawn to lure the two of them in. But due to Alex's foresight, they both survive the encounter and put their heads together to take on the bad guys who are trying to take them down.

This was a gripping, exciting story. Alex is a very resourceful, highly competent heroine who, despite her diminutive size, comes out the victor, eventually. She usually is the one who saves the day in any deadly encounter. Together, she and Kevin are a match for anything their ex-bosses try to throw at them.  Yet, despite her deadly past, she and Daniel fall hard for each other, with brother Kevin looking on in disgusted bemusement.  So this is part thriller, part spy novel and part romance story and a really fun and engaging read.

Kirkus Reviews rated it "B for Badass": https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/stephenie-meyer/the-chemist/.