Thursday, February 28, 2008

February Update - Books and Taxes

February has been a busy month; we started doing taxes at the senior citizen building in Winchester on Mondays and Wednesday and because they are short handed in Tullahoma, I go there and help on Tuesday and Thursday; it is interesting and challenging work.

I finished Phillip Pullman's trilogy and found it to be a splendid work of fantasy, adventure and story telling. "The Golden Compass" sets the stage in a parallel world where we meet the young girl, Lyra, who plays the major role throughout the trilogy as as a kind of "chosen one" whose actions will determine the fate of her world and that of the many other parallel worlds. The theme is "anti religious". Scientists and scholars are in disagreement with the controlling religious factors and the clergy have formed secret societies that are conducting vile experiments. The origin of "original sin" seems to be a matter of considerable importance. The characters are certainly interesting; Every person has his or her personal "daemon" which takes the form of some kind of animal, the "daemon" that is attached in some way to the person. is a life long companion there are Witches, evil creatures, Angels, Giant bears who work metal and wear armour, tiny folk who ride giant dragonflies and town people of all kinds. Lyra is in danger most of the time and relies on her quick wit and friends she acquires on her journey. The second book "The Subtle Knife" introduces Will who finds his way into Lyra's world by accident and befriends her. As they journey together, he acquires the Subtle Knife which enables him to "cut" a doorway into other worlds. In this book, Lyra learns more about her "purpose" and her journey takes clear direction. In the third book, "The Amber Spyglass", old and new characters are further developed and a visit to the world of the dead is made; all the elements of "Dante" are in this voyage; the hooded boatman, the trip across the river, the different places of suffering and the disappointment of of those who were promised so much by their clergy and found only chaos and pain. Lyra and her friend "cut" a way out of "hell" for the poor souls where they could become one with the stars and the universe. Great effort and a great story.

Just finished a scary, fearsome and gruesome novel by Joe Hill; "Heart Shaped Box". A man buys a suit of clothes on the Internet that is supposed to be haunted. When it arrives, in a heart shaped box, he learns that it is, indeed, haunted by a very evil spirit in the form of an old man who was the father of a girl that the man mistreated many years ago. The moments of terror are many and continues through the story. I was worn out when I finished it in one reading. Joe Hill is one of Stephen King's sons writing under a pen name and he is making quite a name for himself in the "horror story" genre.

I am in the middle of Julie Kavanagh's "Nureyev". This is an amazing story; Rudnik, as they called him explored the heights and the depths of life and was so very creative and different and ahead of his time in the dance that he was both criticized and acclaimed.

Amazon had a good buy on a single volume that contained seven Jane Austen novels so I am, again, enthralled with her genius; I am rereading and enjoying the widow Dashwood and her family in "Sense and Sensibility"; what marvelous characters!

Douglas Preston's new one, "Blasphemy" is on my reading list. It looks very interesting; a new supercollider that will cause science and religion to be in conflict (again).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sin In The Second City By Karen Abbott

Subtitled: "Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul" a story about the Everleigh sisters and their famous brothel on South Dearborn Street in Chicago. This book was well researched and a treat for some one who lived in the suburbs and worked in Chicago for many years. The streets, the colorful names of the Ward Aldermen; Bathhouse John Coughlin, and Hinki Dink Kenna who kept the political machines running smoothly (and profitably by collecting from the businesses), the mayors and ambitious district and states attorneys, The renowned business men: Marshall Field, the Armours, Daniel Burnam (Chicago Exposition fame), Al Capone, the Chicago Stockyard, the newspaper owners all played their part in early Chicago history.
Minna and Ada Everleigh did their best to run an exceptional and clean "sporting house"; when they moved to Chicago, the business was fraught with hazzards - disease was rampant, clients were drugged and robbed, and often they were beat up. The girls who ,for the most part, were innocents who came to town looking for work or were brought to town by panderers, were usually sold to the houses for anywhere from twenty-five dollars to two hundred dollars. They were treated badly, underpaid, and under clothed, in virtual slavery, they used drugs and either died from disease or just over work. The levee area of the First Ward had it’s cruel Madams and Masters who ran Ten dollar houses , five dollar houses and fifty cent houses down to the twenty-five cent houses where some girls had as many as fifty clients in a night.
The Everleigh place was a palace with fine furnishings, art work, a golden piano that was sometimes played by Scott Joplin and exceptional food and drink served in a magnificent bar. Clients were screened and most would spend at least five hundred dollars a night at the establishment on drink, food and companionship. The girls were all carefully interviewed, dressed in fine clothing and operated under strict rules; no drugs. no rolling clients, no drunkenness, refinement and pleasure was the byword. Minna and Ada paid their girls very well and the girls were free to go but very few did. While they were in business they paid protection, made the right kind of friends and became known world wide.
They made a fortune but it could not last. The church and the ministers did their very best to shut down the businesses with prayer meetings and midnight vigils and parades and for a while the "ward healers" protected the businesses but the very idea of where the girls that worked in those places might have came from and how they became "trapped in the vile business" through the vehicle of "white slavery" became a nation wide cry that ambitious Chicago attorneys and politicians took up and began to put real pressure on the businesses. James Mann, a US Congressman, sponsored the White Slave Traffic Act better known as the Mann Act which was ignored at first but later became significant. The first part of the book was very interesting and the battles with the ministers was also fun but over two thirds of the book was devoted to building the case against White Slavery and the various legal maneuvers that went on; I tired of that and went on to find out the final fate of the sisters and the others that lived and worked on South Dearborn Street.

The Saville Communion By Arturo Perez Reverte

Another splendid novel by this acclaimed Spanish author. The setting is Seville where controversy over the demolition of a four hundred year old church enjoins greedy bankers, a comical trio of villains, a self serving Arch Bishop and an old priest and his supporters in a deadly battle of devious plots and counter plots. The outcome of the battle hinges on a very old provision in the churches grant that states that as long as mass is said each Thursday morning at 8:AM, ownership will never revert to the city.
A computer "hacker" that Rome chooses to identify as "Vesper" has entered the Pope’s personal computer with a message that he should intervene and protect the tiny crumbling old church.
Because of the intrusion, a special investigative branch (problem solvers)of the Vatican sends their most experienced man to "find out what is going on and report". There are civil and church politics involved and there have been two deaths connected with the church which makes the problem even more delicate. The priest, Lorenzo Quart, goes to Seville and becomes intrigued and involved with the old priest who always manages to hold mass on Thursdays; he conducts his mass in Latin conducts himself in ways that irritate the Arch Bishop. He also meets the old priests’ young assistant, and an unorthodox American girl who is an archaeologist who is trying to restore the old pile but is also a nun. He meets other people who support the old priest's efforts; among them, a beautiful woman recently separated from the man who has the most to gain from the demolition and return of the title to the land to the city. Through her and her aristocratic mother, Quart learns more about the history of the church and Seville than he bargained for. He, also becomes emotionally involved with the young woman. The Arch Bishop turns out to be an old enemy of Quart and not only fails to assist him but attempts do him harm.
There is intrigue, blackmail, another dead body, this time a murder, marvelous characters and dialogue, most interesting religious philosophy and considerable insight into church politics. The identity of "Vesper" is rather a surprise

Murder In Baker Street An Anthology

An anthology of Sherlock Holmes adventures written by various authors who, obviously, are fans of the great detective. Narrated by "Doctor Watson" who, depending on the author, is either modest or boastful as he spins the tale.
I enjoyed these original short stories; Holmes assisted Sir Richard Burton in a clever story about King Tutankhamen’s tomb (this was in 1904) and there was a mystery about a vampire. A fun and easy read

The Chase By Clive Cussler

How about that! A Cussler novel without NUMA or Dirk Pitt or Kurt Austin.
We go back to the West of 1906 when a vicious and sadistic bank robber who becomes known as "The Butcher Bandit" travels the "West" in a luxurious private Pullman car robbing banks in towns that lie along rail lines that run from Omaha to San Francisco and North into Montana. Our bandit uses clever disguises, plans carefully and kills everyone in the bank and leaves no clues. He, actually leads a double life as a wealthy and respected citizen in San Francisco with a beautiful but notorious woman who is almost as bad as he is.
Isaac Bell, chief detective for a private agency is hired by the government to track down and catch the notorious bandit. Bell is tenacious and very colorful; he uses a network of detectives to help him. Railroad history, carefully planned and executed robberies, the San Francisco earth quake, interesting characters and a climatic chase make an interesting Cussler read.