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Debra Morse (Southern California)

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Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln
by Doris Kearns Goodwin
Edition: Hardcover

15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Timely Lessons in Diplomacy, 31 Aug 2006
This massively delicious work is bound to be lapped up by Lincoln enthusiasts and American Civil War buffs like cats to cream. Richly folding in tantalizing detail and authentic accounts of events, conversations, and attitudes, author Goodwin creates a highly delectable feast of historical pleasures all the while educating us to levels rarely encountered in the public venue.

Gentle readers are advised, however, that this is less a biopic of Lincoln than a study of the dynamics of his political life, and his relationships to other participants of the age. It is a study of the Team. None-the-less it is a dynamic and personable work. If you seek a look into the drama of Lincoln's marriage to the volatile Mary Todd, or the rigors of his melancholia, you will only find halfway side-glances at those aspects of his complicated life.

Instead, you will read of the fealty of Seward, the ambition of Chase, the home loving qualities of Bates, and learn the personalities of other key players in our nation's history; those who understood the concept of `big picture' and who put the welfare of the democratic state above any machinations aimed toward personal gain. (Would that we had more of that spirit today.)

Grandly, it is driven home that Lincoln, through his life and continuing into his presidency, was a self-educated and self-made man of the highest integrity and attentiveness. Any perceived blunders of the early half of his administration may be attributed to his ignorance of things military, and his reliance on less than worthy advisors until such time as he got his own mind sufficiently schooled to be able to take the reins of power more firmly in hand.

The book is also an excellent look at the issue of the political path to the dissolution of the southern slavery institution. Unfortunately less a moral issue than an economic one, attitudes regarding the hideous practice are displayed through direct accounts of the Dred Scott decision, and struggles over proposed laws regarding the permission of slavery in the western territories. The interests of Europe, and Britain in particular, to maintain the slave-based economy are well explained. For the first time I understood, without endorsing, the intellectuality of Lincoln's initial position, one born of sheer economics and military reality rather than any Christian philosophy: that if slavery could be contained in the southern states he would tolerate it. It well mirrors current civil rights and gender rights issues of today - it's not the morality of the situation, folks, it's the money.

Finally, the photos, often a postscript to a work of this size, are here magnificent and fascinating. My book club remarked in hen-like clucking on the change that the birth of 17 children wrought in the visage of Julia Bates. We wept at the poignancy of Seward in his garden. This is a fabulous read, and will give the reader many long cozy nights by the fire.

Earthly Joys
Earthly Joys
by Philippa Gregory
Edition: Paperback

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Forbidden Love in a Country in Turmoil, 19 Aug 2006
This review is from: Earthly Joys (Paperback)
I purchased Earthly Joys upon finishing The Other Boleyn Girl trilogy and realizing that after almost 2,000 nonstop pages of Philippa Gregory I still had not had enough. Earthly Joys moves the reader from the Tudor period into the Stuart era through the eyes of John Tradescant, a royal gardener who tends to his plants as though they were children. Indeed, sometimes better than his children. Devoted to his wife and family, Tradescant none the less finds himself smitten with the dashing and glamorous Lord Buckingham and is soon torn between the simple family homestead, and the opulent gardens of the king.

Written with her trademark amazing characterization and vivid attention to detail, Gregory brings to life the turbulent 17th century society of Charles I and impending revolution. Reading of those long ago political machinations, desperate economy, rising religious conservatism, and consequences of forbidden love makes one realize that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The faces have changed, but the scene is the same today.

Catcalendar: 365 Days of Cats
Catcalendar: 365 Days of Cats
by B Kliban
Edition: Calendar

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential Kliban, 19 Aug 2006
This is a decadent essential for B.Kliban fans, featuring the classic tabby etchings, each with their gloriously lunatic attitude. Every flip of the calendar page is a quirky delight. The fearlessly intrepid cats leap into adventures that would cause less resolute felines to hiss and flee. From the singing of "nibbling on they little [mousie] toes" to snorkeling, napping, sumo wrestling, and great lashings of the tail, these kitties never cease to divert and amuse.

Each weekday bears a single full color reproduction of one of B. Kliban's famous drawings. Saturdays and Sundays share a semi-rampant tabby bearing a banner with such observations as `Gone Fishing', `Napping', `In Hiding' or `Star Gazing'.

I have ordered one of these calendars each year for about a decade now and wouldn't dream of starting my year without the latest edition. It is a marvelous gift for any cat fancier, and should bring a broad smile to those who have enjoyed Kliban since way back in the heyday of the `70's and 80's.

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly
by Anthony Bourdain
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deliciously Funny With a Dose of Salty Spice, 16 Aug 2006
Having been long mesmerized by the earthy charms of Anthony Bourdain, as he appears in his hit Travel Channel show "No Reservations", I felt it high time I read the book that arguably started it all in 2000. And, too, having once been in relationship with a European hotelier and restaurateur, I thought I knew the biz. Hell no. Apparently I had been sheltered from the truly seamy side of the kitchen and knew nothing. I love this book.

Want to sit in the store room of a restaurant and spy on the egos? The horseplay? The social pathology? Oh the humanity! The humanity!

Bourdain's use of language is brilliant. At once memoir and muck rake, the reader is treated to an intimate peek over the shoulder into Bourdain's life. The rapturous epiphany of a fourth grader's first taste of vichyssoise. The realization that "food is power". Apprentice misadventures: "they'd let us practice our knifework on whole legs of beef... we were the culinary version of the Manson family...". Industry advisements: avoid buffets. Eat out on Wednesday or Thursday. Forget about Saturday night (Well, unless you know the chef or maitre`d, I would add).

Now that Mr. Bourdain has catapulted into a whole other sphere of influence, these early words are fascinating. (As I tap this out he has just returned from Beirut where he was caught up in the recent war. We should eagerly anticipate his first hand - and hopefully unreined-in - experiential comments on the absolute heartbreaking tragedy of the destruction of this beautiful and vibrant city; one devoted particularly to hospitality and dining).

If you are a foodie, or anyway close to that, you'll devour the book in one sitting. Get it. Don't hesitate.

Living Dead in Dallas: A Sookie Stackhouse Vampire Mystery
Living Dead in Dallas: A Sookie Stackhouse Vampire Mystery
by Charlaine Harris
Edition: Paperback

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sookie Does Dallas, 12 Aug 2006
In the second of Charlaine Harris' Southern Vampire series, heroine Sookie Stackhouse finds herself falling ever deeper in love with Vampire Bill in spite of his disturbing cohorts, and increasingly obligated to Eric, the undead owner of Fangtasia: a nightclub devoted to vampires and fangbangers. When Eric lends Sookie and her telepathic skills to the vampire constabulary in Dallas, all hell breaks loose. As she reads minds in an attempt to find a missing vampire, all sorts of things go kerflooky. Sookie finds herself on the wrong end of the attentions of the Fellowship of the Sun: an evangelical anti-vamp cult hell bent on killing as many vampires as possible. Will she escape with her life, or be lashed to a captive vampire to be left out for the sunrise to immolate?

Harris loses none of the momentum of her first Sookie Stackhouse novel. Skillfully blending horror with humor, she has produced another pageturner that will keep you up all night long. This one should not be missed.

Bloody Bones: An Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Novel
Bloody Bones: An Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter Novel
by Laurell K. Hamilton
Edition: Paperback

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enthralling musky naughty ghoulish fun, 12 Aug 2006
Bloody Bones is the fifth in Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake vampire hunter series, and it's fantastic. This time, Anita is forced by her commercially driven boss Bert to take a zombie- raising job away from her native St Louis: she must assist in a land dispute issue on the outskirts of Branson by reviving the dead buried there, to ask them whether they are members of the family asserting ownership interest. Seems straightforward enough. But then the killings start, and Anita joins forces with the local constabulary to solve what initially appears to be a serial vampire-murderer investigation. Her novice apprentice Larry provides comic relief throughout, and proves to be a staunch character himself, as the murders and the land dispute begin to intertwine.

This book can stand alone, but it's better to read it in the context of the series as it's a pivotal installment. Anita's already complex character is further unveiled and pushed both morally and emotionally as she is forced to call upon her dangerous suitor Jean-Claude ( vampire Master of the City) for help. Does Anita continue to resist the musky appeal of Jean-Claude and remain loyal to Richard, her true-blue lycanthrope fiance? How does she deal with the vulnerability and karmic debt she now owes Jean-Claude? Is she able to defeat the sinister fairie Magnus and his overtly evil master Serephina.? And how does she deal with Jean-Claude when the two are forced to share a hotel room, and Jean-Claude's coffin goes missing? Who gets the sofa?

Sink your teeth into this one, and enjoy the rush

Timothy; Or, Notes of an Abject Reptile
Timothy; Or, Notes of an Abject Reptile
by Verlyn Klinkenborg
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reptilian Sense and Sensibility, 12 Aug 2006
What a wry, original, disarming, imaginative, and instructive tale! Author Verlyn Klinkenborg considers the subjective journaling of 18th century English curate Gilbert White regarding a real life tortoise who lived on White's property in Selborne, and from White's biased human observations crafts a rebuttal unlike any other: a bestial philosophic treatise. Timothy is a sentient being who has much to teach us from her example (White in his paternalism erroneously concludes Timothy is male).

Through Timothy's narrative we are shown our own species' arrogance, cruelty, and bumbling tack. "How do I escape from that nimble-tongued, fleet footed race?.... Walk through the holes in their attention". Timothy's discourse on instinct versus reason is worthy of university level discussion. "Tottering, stilt-gaited beasts. A sad plight. Reason too often a will-o'-the-wisp. Instinct a relic within them."

Jane Austen in a carapace. Elegance amongst the asparagus.

As one reviewer notes, this is "one of the best meditations on slowness, patience, and endurance". It will make you re-consider humankinds place in the world. An excellent book club read, it will lead to many long discussions. One can also predict increasing crowds at the reliquary of Timothy's shell at the Natural History Museum in London.

Plus One: A Year in the Life of a Hollywood Nobody
Plus One: A Year in the Life of a Hollywood Nobody
by Claire Fordham
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Confessions of a Dangerous Ex Pat Mind, 8 Aug 2006
British Claire arrives in SoCal to take a mid-life gap year at the Santa Monica residence of her sister, acclaimed singer songwriter Julia Fordham, and finds to her delight that she has become Julia's "plus one" (for the uninitiated: invitations issued to singletons for publicity and other industry celebratory events almost always inscribe the name of the guest "plus one", indicating the guest can also bring a guest thereby avoiding the shame and humiliation of being alone).

She finds her sister has also invited an additional roommate, a lively canine rescued from a certain short street life in Fiji. These twin circumstances (pooch and parties) lead to a nonstop romp of silliness and zany adventures as Claire attends rounds of parties, acts as her sister's PA and guitar roadie on various gigs including a Philippines tour, and deals with Muttley: the dog who eats condoms, atlases, and deposits his foul turds on Claire's bed.

Will Claire ever meet her secret fantasy boyfriend George Clooney? Or her back up secret fantasy boyfriend David " do shag me" Duchovny? These amorous quests are punctuated by her flings with a tennis buddy and a writer, the visits of her grown-up son and daughter from Britain, and her assimilation into Californian culture ( and no, gentle reader, that is most certainly not an oxymoron).

From the moment I saw her interviewed on Craig Ferguson, I knew : I have to read everything this author writes. Do I identify with her? Well, let's see: we're both single (but not for long - congrats Claire!), stumbling through the lunacy of the Southern California glitterati/literati scene after leaving a sane and socially responsible lifestyle to write about poo-ing dogs, wanker men, and figuring out how to find Roberto Cavalli togs on a tight budget. Ah, that would be a "yes".

I loved, loved, loved this book. Reading it makes me feel like I just had an all night girlfriend pajama party with cappuccino and lemon cake. The writing style is familiar and easy. Claire's life experiences are spot-on-typical, yet described with such wit and style that even the calamitous is given perspective. I recommend it for a sunny Sunday at the beach or café when you feel you need a chirker-up. You'll be the happier for it.

The Illuminated Rumi
The Illuminated Rumi
by Jalal Al-Din Rumi
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 16.99

12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful Homage, 8 Aug 2006
This review is from: The Illuminated Rumi (Hardcover)
This beautiful volume is a must-have for anyone who loves Rumi, and a fantastic introduction for those who are new to the poetry. It is not a scholarly work, although the light commentary is nicely done. Rather, the work is a lovely mélange of Rumi's poems as translated by Coleman Barks, complemented by the stunning illustrations of Michael Green. It's experiential rather than academic. A tool, not a lecture.

The overall effect is hypnotic. Excellent as a prequel to meditation, it is more evocative than stimulating. Read the poem, let your eyes flow over the pictures, and be transported. If you know and have studied Rumi, all you have read and learned will wash over you in the process. If you are new to Rumi, you will realize wisdom you didn't know you had.

Understand, this transport is courtesy of the poetry. The illustrations provide a little pretty oil for the mesmeric skids. And just as Rumi transcends his Sufi origins to reach all faiths, so also do the illustrations contain aspects of all the organized (and unorganized) religions.

"Come, whoever you are! Wanderer, worshipper, lover of learning. This is not a caravan of despair. It doesn't matter if you've broken your vow a thousand times, still and yet again, come!"

Kama Sutra: Timeless Erotica and the Seven Spiritual Laws of Love
Kama Sutra: Timeless Erotica and the Seven Spiritual Laws of Love
by Deepak Chopra
Edition: Hardcover

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh New Version of the Classic, 8 Aug 2006
With this latest book the well-loved and popular mind-body guru Deepak Chopra lends his take on the spiritual messages of this ancient text to craft a modern interpretation of the Kama Sutra; one very well suited to the Western mind.

Fans of the Chopra distillation method (conversion of any universal truth to seven behavioral steps) will embrace his latest effort with rapturous glee. This would be an excellent gift for a couple, a lover, or anyone interested in a consideration of the meaning and import of sexuality and spiritual evolution.

It's beautifully written in a conversational style that invites exploration and reflection, yet preserves the overall sacredness of the content. As well, it's stunningly illustrated with new artwork by - ironic in this case - the Virgin Illustration Studios along with a number of individual artists including Gotham Chopra. At first I rather missed the classical illustrations with their occasionally improbable postures and attitudes, but this faded as I warmed to the beauty of the recently commissioned modern art.

The text is divided into three sections, and links the concepts of spirituality and sexuality through discussions of pleasure and how this relates to shame, life goals, passion, and other emotions and concepts. None of the archaic prejudices are removed, yet the reader is gently reminded that while the modern mind may differ, we should look for the underlying lesson in these texts, and observe how we have evolved and how much further we have to go as a sentient species. As the author writes: " any given paragraph can be wise, cynical, ribald, witty, fantastic, irreverent, manipulative, and clinical by turns". And yes, gentle reader, there are the classic descriptions of the positions for intercourse.

But it's not all serious. Some of the pages are humorous in modern context, such as the page defining "Easy Women", which includes listings such as "an actor's wife" and "older women". This section and those similar in attitude ( "Advice for Seducers") should have book clubs cackling with fresh discussion.

Buy it. Revel in it. Play with it. Learn from it.

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