Thursday, December 20, 2007

The War At Troy/ Lindsay Clarke

A most intricate and detailed telling of the Trojan War. Mr Clarke sure knows his Homer and you will really get to know those fabled mortals and gods that masterminded and acted this drama.
The problem of that pesky Golden Apple* that Eris, sister of the war god Ares, sent to the wedding feast of Peleus and Thetis as a gift (*the inscription was "To The Fairest" and it caused no end of problems and arguments in Olympus) because she alone was not invited comes into play as Paris is asked to make judgement as to who is the fairest among Hera, Athena and Aphrodite. All three goddesses made promises to Paris to induce him to chose but it was Aphrodite who showed him the face of Helen of Troy - and so was beguiled by her. The Story of the war and of Odysseus’ Trojan Horse has been told many times but the detail and background of the characters is fascinating: Helen - when Zeus saw the wife of the king of Sparta, Leda, Zeus changed into a swan, seduced Leda and sired the beautiful Helen. Paris - also beautiful is the son of Priam and Hecuba and brother of Hector and the dire forecaster, Cassandra. Because of a message from the gods, Paris ,an infant, was left to die in the woods but was suckled by a she bear and lived to eventually claim his birth right. Achilles, Menelaus, they are all there and we have a lively story. It is interesting that Alessandro Baricco (author of "Silk") wrote "An Illiad" not too long ago.

The Ghost/ Robert Harris

A very interesting and sometimes exciting novel about a British writer who is cajoled into "ghost writing" the biography of the very recently retired Prime Minister, Adam Lang, after the man originally hired to do the job is found dead from drowning under what might be considered mysterious circumstances. The author, clearly, has Tony Blair in mind as he deals with the question of why the Prime Minister embraced the Bush administration’s policies at every turn at great political risk to himself and to the dismay of the people of Great Britain. In his novel, Harris echoes those who think there might have been some obligatory reasons for the Prime Minister’s persistent allegiance to the US and he attempts a somewhat sinister motive that involves the American CIA.

The new ghost writer tells the story in first person; Lang and his wife have secluded themselves (with security and entourage) at Martha’s Vineyard in the home of a wealthy publisher to work on his memoirs. He has been offered the unheard of sum of ten million dollars for the finished product. Soon after our new ghost writer and narrator arrives at the estate , the International Criminal Court of the Hague announces to the world that they have indicting evidence to support an investigation into the former Prime Minister’s collusion with the CIA in the capture and mistreatment (torture-water boarding) of some terrorist suspects. While this would seem to put the memoirs into a cocked hat, the publisher, seeing a marketing opportunity, puts pressure on the writer to finish his work even sooner than planned.
The Lang team persuades Lang to go to Washington to seek support from powerful congress people and the administration. This turns out to be a bad move in the eyes of the Brits who think he should have come home and seek the support of his own people.

The ghost writer has now examined the notes and research of his predecessor and has interviewed Lang and his wife. There are things that need explaining; when he finds, on the back of a photograph, the cell phone number of Lang’s most critical and dangerous political opponent, he violates the neutral position a ghost writer must take and begins an investigation. The investigation and subsequent interviews reveal Lang’s close association with the CIA, and the writer begins to suspect that the former writer was following the same trail and was killed because of the things he learned. So the novel works it way on to a thriller with a tidy and interesting climax. In this story, the PM has an affair with a member of his cabinet and the PM’s wife has a one night stand with our ghost writer

I think it was a good read; Harris was politically involved with Tony Blair as he rose to become Prime Minister.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Biking and Swimming Stats

It has been some eighteen months, now since I had my knees replaced and I am pleased that I have pedaled 800 miles in mostly 10 to 15 mile trips. I achieved my goal of a 30 mile ride: I am swimming 1200 yards and set a goal for 1750. The new knees are part of me now so there will be no need to talk about them further. I am most grateful to Doctor Craig Ferrell , as fine a surgeon and human being I ever had the pleasure of knowing and those who supported me through the recovery.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Those Three Remain/ Pamela Aiden

I am posting this as a reference for a fellow Jane Austen admirer

Ms Aidan is a librarian and long time fan of Jane Austen. So much so that she wrote a trilogy
giving more color and depth and history to the characters of "Pride and Prejudice" and even made up a few more people. As usual, I found and read the last in her series subtitled "Fitzwilliam Darcy - Gentleman".

This novel picks up the story when Mr. Darcy makes his horribly stupid proposal to Elizabeth Bennet and he is, of course rejected. Darcy decides that he must change his attitude and ways and become a person that Ms Bennet could admire and, perhaps, love. The novel is fair and faithful to Jane Austin’s work and includes many of the original, poignant passages but it also creates some reasonable scenarios and details relating to what Darcy actually did to help the Bennet family (all for the love of Elizabeth) and gives plausible answers to questions one might have about what went through Darcy’s mind. I enjoyed it a lot probably because I liked the original novel so much. I will not, however, go back to the earlier novels of the trilogy.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Desert Crucible/ Zane Grey

After finishing my last post about "Lonigan" I want to tell about another Western author who is another favorite. You, really, should read "Riders" first

After the wild success of "Riders of The Purple Sage", Zane Grey was asked to write a sequel. He did so in 1915 but his publishers edited the story and removed parts that they thought would offend certain readers or, perhaps, outside groups put pressure on them. (Political correctness in 1915?) Zane Grey had some extremely harsh things to say about the Mormon religion which showed in "Riders". The idea of the Mormons kidnaping young girls and hiding them away as "sealed wives" was an abomination to Grey and he had equal opinions about the way missionaries and priests tried to take away the religion of the Indians and replace it with something completely foreign to them.

This book was published several years later ; exactly as Zane Grey wrote the original.
We left "Riders" after the wonderful ride through the plain and after Lassiter pushed the huge rock that sealed him and Jane Withersteen and the young child Fay Larkin in "Surprise Valley".
Bern Venters, Jane’s hand at her ranch and his wife Bess moved on to Illinois and met a man called Sheffield. Sheffield was a troubled minister who lost his faith in the traditional religion and was kicked out of his church. He was befriended by Venters who told Sheffield the story of Lassiter, Jane and Fay. Sheffield became intrigued with the story and made his mind up to find "Surprise Valley" In his travels he heard another story that chilled him; the Mormons who Lassiter and Jane were escaping from never gave up their hunt for them and years after they sealed themselves in "Surprise Valley" the Mormons found a way into the valley and they forced young Fay to go with them, become a Mormon and a "sealed wife" on the threat that they would hang Lassiter and kill Jane who they called an atheist. Sheffield vowed to rescue them. The adventures were many; hardships on the trail and mixed joy when he finally found and rescued Fay. He met many people and made good friends among them an old Indian who helped Sheffield get his mind and spirit together. The Mustangs played an important role in the story. He made enemies that he had to fight. He found a religion.

Zane Greys wonderful descriptions of the land, the mountains and colorful valleys, his imagery of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado River and the "Rainbow Bridge" surely indicate his love for the West. This is another great story; a moral play without preaching.

Lonigan/ Louis L'Amour

A collection of short stories reflecting the movement of cattle (cattle drives)from Texas to the various shipping points in Kansas, the lives and nature of the men who drove the cattle, their lives in the bunkhouse,on the range, in the saloons and in the towns.
L’Amour’s heros are always strong, polite to women, hard fighters and handy with a gun. They take no nonsense from bullies or hardened cowboys looking for mischief. His women are, also, strong and independent, able to live in the rough country and although they usually dislike their hero at first, the learn to admire and love him.
Louis L’Amour has written over 100 tales of the West, they all reflect his love of the country and the people. More of a formula writer than Zane Grey but his tales capture good and the bad in moving and exciting adventures. I have been reading him for a long time and when I find one I have missed I know that I will have an exciting couple of hours immersed in his adventure.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Archer King/ Reyna Thera Lorele

A pagan Robin Hood. An interesting retelling of this favorite adventure.
Robin of Loxley returns to England with close friend, Wlll Scarlok, tired and disenchanted with the years wasted in killing and plundering doing "Gods duty" in the holy lands. The whereabouts of King Richard are unknown and he finds his lands confiscated by the Holy Church and learns that his father was burned as a heretic.
John, Richard’s brother is exploiting the people aided by the church and the evil sheriff of Nottingham The beautiful Maerin is in a convent awaiting marriage to an obnoxious underling of the King. She will be sorely tested when she meets Robin after many years because she was raised in the church and he follows the Wiccan ways and the rituals of the Druids. They love one another but they have these obstacles to overcome
So it is off to the forest where Robin joins others who are hiding from John’s law. The names are a bit different but it is the same familiar group doing much the same thing but some of the scenes are more "R" rated than one might be used to in the older stories. Robin’s death is centered around a pagan blood ceremony; it was never witnessed by Maerin who, after Robin told her of a dream relating to his death, left him and returned to the convent.
I think that after growing up on Earl Flynn as Robin Hood this version was not really to my Liking.

The Art Thief/ Noah Charney

An interesting but very complex first novel by a young writer who holds degrees in art history and who, also, chairs an organization that studies art crimes.
The disappearance of a major work of Caravaggio from a church in Rome, the discovery, in Paris, that a valuable painting by a Russian who specializes in "White-on-White" art is missing and a theft, in London, of an Art Museum’s most recent acquisition only hours after they had paid over six million pounds for it at an auction, are almost simultaneous and as it turns out are all connected.
The various police organizations that specialize in art theft and art experts from each country begin their investigation into what becomes a mystery, a puzzle, and a conspiracy. The removal of the paintings had been planned very carefully, ingenious, actually. Forgeries, substitution, overpainting, deception and surprising complicities are revealed as the "art detectives" and the police go about their business. The author has created some fascinating characters, whose personal and professional lives add depth and knowledge to the overall investigation.
Learn about art, listen as our "art experts" lecture and discuss various works of art in the art museum and over some long and provocative lunches in Paris and London restaurants and watch them solve some interesting puzzles. This is probably the best part of the novel although, Mr Charney tends to use his didactic abilities a little too much.

One Thousand White Women/ Jim Fergus

In 1874, a Cheyenne Chief named Little Wolf and several other Chiefs met with President Grant and other officials and the Press to discuss a peace proposal. The Chief began by explaining that, among his tribe, it is tradition that every newborn baby belongs to the tribe of his mother. This is a good thing, he said, because the child will be brought up understanding the customs of the mother’s tribe but will be welcome in the tribe of his father. Little Wolf asked that the President give to the Cheyenne one thousand white women who would marry Cheyenne men and whose children would be brought up in the white man culture and thus creating an understanding and peace between the two peoples. The Cheyenne, in return, would pay one thousand horses for the women. The proposal which was an historical fact, was rejected and the press pandered to the outrage that Little Wolf’s proposal caused.

Our author, Jim Fergus, seized on the idea and created a fascinating historical, imaginative novel about what happened after the proposal was made:

When the public read about the outrageous proposal, the President started to receive thousands of letters from women from all walks of life stating that they would be willing to participate in the "Brides for Indians" program. So many, that President Grant finally decided that the program might just help the peace effort which was not going very well (the Cheyenne were attacking settlers going West) but the Government, in their wisdom(?), made it a secret project. There were many reasons that the women were willing to go and live with the Indians and the agency set out to interview the candidates. They were also willing to give the selected candidates release from jail and release from mental institutions (if the candidates were not too crazy).
The story is narrated through the journal of a woman named May Dodd who was wrongly placed in a mental institution by her parents because May left home to live with a man she loved and had two children out of wedlock causing her socialite parents much scandal. May was abandoned by her family, she lost her children and thought that she was destined to spend the rest of her life in asylum; she applied and was selected for the "BFI" program. The journal describes the very colorful collection of women that accompany her as the first group of brides and we learn the various reasons both sad and humorous as to why the women volunteered .

The journal begins with May’s release from the asylum and tells the story of the initial journey to an outpost in Kansas Territory and on to the Indian village where the women take up their lives in the Indian village as wives of Cheyenne braves.
Entertaining and funny descriptions of the women, their backgrounds, their strengths and their weaknesses, their hardships, intimate details of the lives they lead as wives in a communal lodge with their husbands’s other wives and the dishonesty and deception of the Government and the Army as they cheat the Indians out of their promised land and possessions in total disregard of their treaties. They even lie about the "BFI" program. The journal includes the hypocrisy of the clergy assigned to the project by the Government. While the clergy was supposed to support the women, they looked down upon the women and felt that their prime mission was to teach Christianity to the "heathen savages". They also had "special" and secret instructions from the Government.

The project, of course, was doomed to failure because the two races were too far apart; the situation in the Black Hills, the discovery of gold and the mad rush into Indian Territory resulted in a public outcry for the Army to protect the settlers and a massacre and rounding up of all Indians to a reservation resulted. The peaceful "BFI " village was invaded and devastated by a huge contingent of U.S. troops. May was fatally wounded while trying to escape but her journal is finally passed on to her children.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Uncommon Reader By Alan Bennett

I know that Ms Moonrat has already commented on this but I loved every page so........ (I really like Alan Bennett too) Then, again, it might be my advanced age, ha

Witty, humorous, and elegantly written, this satire about Queen Elizabeth discovering the pleasure of reading and confounding the people at the palace, particularly those who govern her life (non readers) as well as the public who are used to getting simple questions from Her Majesty "where did you come from?, did you drive far?", and now they are asked "what have you read lately?", was a joy to savor. (Wow!, that was a Proust - like sentence)
While chasing her Corgies on the palace grounds, Her Majesty discovers a mobile library parked near the kitchen of the palace. She stops in and meets the driver and a single patron, a young boy, Norman who works in the kitchen. The Queen supposes that "One should be duty bound to borrow a book when in a library" but she is not sure what to pick. She has never been particularly interested in reading; she felt that she was a "doer" and reading was something better left for other people. The young boy mentions several authors and prefaces that he is partial to Gay writers. Queen makes a decision, takes her book to the palace and feigning illness to get out of the heavy schedule for the day, reads her book and wants more. Each time she visits the mobile library, Norman is there; she decides to elevate Norman to some kind of page in her personal quarters where they can discuss books and Norman can go to other libraries for chosen volumes. This does not set well with the palace people. The Queens books begin to disappear and the mobile library is mysteriously routed away from the palace. The more Her Majesty reads, the less interested she becomes in the mundane duties she is asked to perform. She, now has a journal and makes notes on what she reads and she is forever embarrassing her associates and even her Prime Minister with quotations and questions about classical works. Rumors abound and Her secretary and the PM are wondering if the Queen is becoming senile. Norman is "promoted" and sent on to College while the Queen is away on an extended trip. When she returns she is surprised and saddened and suspicious. The PM and others close to her put more and more pressure on her to fall back, as it were, to when she was the more "traditional" Queen. She manages, however, and even threatens to write a book and that causes the PM and party to threaten her with constitutionality and precedence. The Queen rises to the occasion very well.

I enjoyed this Novella, only 128 pages but all were fast moving, interesting and, certainly, gave pause for thought. I thought it was funny when the Queen was discussing Proust and his "Madeline's" as he dipped them in his tea and his past life came to mind; the Queen said "she tried it but it did nothing for her" Alan Bennett wrote the play "The Madness of King George" that was a riot!

Stolen In The Night BY Patricia MacDonald

Rob and Dawn DeGraff and their three children Jake, Tess and Phoebe are on a camping trip. One night, the two girls were to share a tent with their older brother but the brother decided to sneak out to go to town. That night, a man cut a hole in the girl’s tent and terrorized Tess with a knife telling her that if she cries out, he will kill her sister. Phoebe is abducted. When Tess is, finally able to tell her parents about the incident, she said that she got a close look at the man. When she described the man the to the sheriff , the Sheriff immediately thought of a well known bad character who had a reputation of being a pervert. The man, Lazarus Abbott is arrested and they find Phoebe’s blood on his clothes. Phoebe is found dead; she had been abused. Tess testified at Lazarus’ trial and it was her testimony that caused the jury to convict. Lazarus got the death penalty and was executed.

Twenty years later, Tess receives news that Lazarus’ mother, after years of trying, finally convinced the Governor to run a DNA test on the old evidence and the results are to be made public within the week.

The test is somewhat ambiguous but it is enough to prove that Lazarus did not rape Phoebe and enough to reopen the case. Poor Tess is accused of sending an innocent man to jail and death. She is still convinced that she did not make a mistake in identifying Lazarus but every one begins to wonder; "she was only a frightened child, maybe she was mistaken". Tess begins her own investigation starting with old news accounts and pictures and talking to some of the people originally involved in the case. Tess postulates a theory and begins a dangerous and terrifying investigation where she learns that there could have been more than one man involved in the rape and killing. At the same time, the Sheriff, bowing to political pressure, is looking for a scape goat and he accuses Tess of lying and covering up the actions of her father or even her brother....... Tess' young son is then kidnaped; she begins to suspect the sheriff. There is a hunt for the boy: with accusations all around, Tess does not know who to trust.

Tense action, a few wrong turns, some surprises and a chilling and deadly climax makes this a satisfying thriller.