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A Thistle in the Mist
A Thistle in the Mist
Price: £2.56

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Journey well worth the Trip!, 14 Jun. 2013
I have never been to Scotland. After reading, A Thistle in the Mist, I want to visit the Isle of Skye and see those thistles in the mist the author talks about. I also wish I could meet Meara MacDonald and her strapping young man Duncan MacLeod there. But they lived out their incredible lives in the eighteen hundreds.

Writer Megan Denby created an entire world in this novel, which I felt privileged to visit. From the start of the book, I was fascinated by time and place, and in particular the language of the Scots. What a lovely lilt that Scottish burr is! What fun it was to meet Meara as she sings a song written by the famous Scottish poet Robert Burns. Of course, she calls him Rabbie Burns! Don't you simply love it when a writer knows her stuff? Yes, I'm one of those who checks. And Denby knows what she is talking about. From the colors of the MacDonald tartan to the claret our heroine's father drinks. While I think of Scotland as being famous for its single malts, in the eighteen hundreds claret was as common a drink as milk.

As our heroine Meara goes from a carefree life at Duntulm Castle to heartbreak, sweet Duncan tells her, "Ah, lass, if I could take away the hurtin', ye ken I would." You got to love a sweet laddie like him! As Meara has to fight for her life alone while her man is away fighting Napoleon, she is sustained by Duncan's love.

Will our sweet lassie get her hunk of a laddie in the end? Take the journey with Meara, Duncan and all the characters author Denby brings alive on the page. It's well worth the trip.


She Had No Enemies
She Had No Enemies
by Dennis Fleming
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars MANY WRONG TURNS LEAD TO CATHARSIS FOR AUTHOR FLEMING, 2 May 2011
This review is from: She Had No Enemies (Paperback)
On July 25, 1980, Mary Fleming was killed. It took her brother, Dennis Fleming, many wrong turns in life and a quarter of a century to tell the story of her brutal murder in his memoir, "She Had No Enemies."

The facts are, as often, deceptively simple. On a warm summer day, Mary, the youngest of the Fleming children, affectionately nicknamed "Mickey," is followed home from a walk to the corner market where she had purchased lunch items. The man who followed her was Anthony J. LaRette, a serial killer, who slashed her throat and stabbed her in the heart while the lettuce for her luncheon salad sat on the kitchen counter.

When I look at Mickey's picture, a beautiful girl at age 18 with the full promise of life ahead of her, I can imagine how difficult it must have been for the author to tell a story so close to the bone. But when you read his book you'll know that he had to find a way to talk about this most personal tragedy, or let it destroy him. And destroy him it almost did by way of drugs, alcohol, depression, attempted suicide, and failed marriages.

"She Had No Enemies" is more than a crime story of how LaRette was caught, tried, and eventually executed. The blue-collar Flemings, like Frank McCourt`s family in "Angela's Ashes," have tragedy written all over them right from the get-go. Fleming's mother and brother were abandoned by their parents, raised by a grandma "who'd smack your hands with her sausage fingers." No wonder the mom ran as fast as she could from "Big Grandma" right into the arms of an alcoholic who beat her and the children, which the two somehow managed to produce between the fighting and the beatings. She had eight of them before she found the strength to leave him. "Whenever I think back on my childhood, I recall those ugly images," Fleming writes.

The father was a bully and a con-man who couldn`t hold down a job. Fleming nails him, reads him like a book. He says, "Although most of us were broken in some way growing up in the chaos of our family, Mickey emerged intact." When he thinks of Mickey's death one hopes that this is a comfort to him, just like Mickey's innocent drawings he used to tuck into his footlocker as a Marine.

In the end, for Dennis Fleming to emerge intact he needed to write "She had to Enemies."


Stir, Laugh, Repeat: 0
Stir, Laugh, Repeat: 0
Price: £8.50

5.0 out of 5 stars COOKING WITH MARTHA, 2 May 2011
I grew up with "from scratch" cooking. Both my grandmother and my mother spent hours in the kitchen to produce their meals the only way they knew how--from scratch. This, of course, is how they've taught us children to cook. But don't we all have better things to do than spend hours in the kitchen kneading, waiting for the dough to rise, cutting the shortening into the flour until it looks like little peas? I know I do. I'm a writer working on my second novel. I'm involved with family and community. With spring finally here, I don't even want to be indoors, but want to go biking, hiking, and playing tennis with friends.

This is why cooking Martha Cheves's way has been joyfully liberating. In her cookbook, "STIR, LAUGH, REPEAT," she lists 100 recipes for cooks of all ages and varying experience. Many of her recipes are quick; all are easy and delectable! And she won't make you stand in the corner for using canned peas & carrots, and pre-made pie shells, as in her chicken pot pie. Her biscuits made with self-rising flour are light and fluffy, the secret ingredient being--surprise--MAYONNAISE! Anyone who can cook noodles can make her Tuna Melt Casserole. Sunday, I whipped up my favorite of her desserts, her wonderful Key Lime Pie for a family dinner. It took me all of five minutes to get the pie into the oven. STIR, LAUGH, REPEAT INDEED! And thank you, Martha, for unchaining me from the stove and for making cooking easy as well as just plain fun!

Along with her recipes, Martha gives you her life stories of how she discovered a recipe or when she first made a particular dish. These stories, along with her helpful hints, are sprinkled throughout her book. In this way, I've gotten to know Martha's family and many of the people in her life. Thank you, Martha, for sharing your recipes, your wisdom, and your joy in life!


Sharp As A Tack or Scrambled Eggs: Which Describes Your Brain?
Sharp As A Tack or Scrambled Eggs: Which Describes Your Brain?
Price: £9.37

5.0 out of 5 stars TICKLE YOUR BRAIN!, 2 May 2011
I must admit that one of my fears in life is that of losing my mind. Each day, it seems, I talk to someone who has a loved one or knows someone in their circle of friendship with Alzheimer's or dementia. Every time I look into the refrigerator and ask myself what I'm looking for--an onion? an egg? Swiss cheese?--or when I walk into a room only not to remember what took me there, I fear the worst! To a writer, especially at times when I sit in front of my computer screen chasing an elusive word, this is very frightening.

Of course when Fran Lewis published her book, Sharp As A Tack or Scrambled Eggs, I jumped on it. She has personally interviewed physicians and also cites studies by prominent doctors so I didn't have to go research this on my own. When I started reading her book, I was pleased to find that I'm already doing many things on her list to keep my brain functioning well. Diet and exercise have been very much part of our family's daily routine. And it was good to find out that all the foods I love not only taste good to me, but are also good brain foods. In spite of the pat on the back that I gave myself when I read Fran Lewis's book, I also had to own up that there's more I can do. I don't always take my vitamins, but tonight I'll grudgingly serve one up with dinner! Then there's the matter of routine. For a writer, working from home, I have my daily routine down pat, and I love it! But along comes Fran Lewis and tells me to mix it up. Okay, Fran, let's see if I can finish typing this review blindfolded: b;omdfp;ded pr cp,b ,u jaor wotj ,u ;left jamd/ Ooops! Not perfect, but the brain's not looking for perfection, just challenges!

Sharp As A Tack or Scrambled Eggs is filled with excellent suggestions of how to keep sharp as a tack. At the end of the book, Ms. Lewis created a table to log your daily activities. Try it for a month while I just run off to cp,b ,u jsot eoyj ,u ;rgy jsmf/

This is fun, like tickling your brain!!!


The Elegance of the Hedgehog
The Elegance of the Hedgehog
by Muriel Barbery
Edition: Audio CD

3.0 out of 5 stars THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG: Does it pass the cherry plum test?, 1 May 2011
I had occasion to see Carrie Fisher's act, "Wishful Drinking" recently at a Seattle theatre. It was billed as a hilarious one-woman show. What it was, was Carrie "dishing" on herself, her family, and her friends, knocking herself with one put-down after another. I find this brand of humor about as uproariously funny or entertainingly hilarious as watching a drunk vomiting in public. What emerged from the actress's mouth was a stream of foul-mouthed self-loathing, a performance so demeaning to herself, it was utterly painful to watch.

Just as I was repulsed by Carrie's act, so was I unable to work up any sympathy for the self-denigrating protagonist of "The Elegance of the Hedgehog," Muriel Barbery's wildly popular novel, and a New York Times bestseller, of a Parisian concierge who works in an up-scale condominium, filled with upper-class, self-important, and foolish tenants.

Renée Michel is the self-described hedgehog of the story. She depicts her physical appearance in the most disparaging words of self-hatred. To this, she adds, defiantly, that she is neither friendly nor makes an effort to be liked. She is "the child of nothing, struggling to make her way in a world of privileged affluent people." Later we are asked to believe that the cause of Renée's innate dislike of the rich has its origins in her sister's past misfortunes. Renée takes a sadomasochistic pleasure in the fact that her appearance so matches up to the building tenants' narrow-minded expectations of a concierge. Secretly, she takes them to task for their faulty grammar, for their pretensions and social climbing, while she assumes--relishing this fact--that they regard her as boorish and stupid. What Renée is hiding from them is her love of art, music, and literature. She spouts philosophy (albeit to herself and her cat, Leo), and dotes on all things Japanese.

Just as we begin to weary of Renée's philosophical musings, we are treated to the "profound" thoughts of Renée's foil, Paloma, the 12-year-old daughter of wealthy tenants who faithfully journalizes her low judgment of others, as well as her plans for suicide and arson. Renée and Paloma are equals in intelligence and disparaging wit, a fact both keep hidden from others and each other. In addition, they share a grudge against the world they live in: Renée against the wealthy; Paloma against the grownups.

Eventually, the two become friends. The person who brings them together is the new tenant, Kakuro Ozu. He is a wealthy and cultured Japanese man, sought-after by his neighbors. As he has a gift for recognizing the truly intelligent who share his fine appreciation of art, in this fairy tale, Monsieur Ozu snubs his rich neighbors in favor of the lowly concierge and the bratty child. As Renée and Kakuro sip tea, discuss art and literature, they discover that they are soul mates.

Just as with Carrie Fisher, Renée eventually does get the chance to air out her family closet of dirty laundry before she is whisked off in a deus ex machine dénouement of the story, with Paloma having the last word as we are made to believe that the child somehow finds a sense of catharsis in this ridiculous ending.

Although, I'm not able to read Ms. Barbery's work in the original French, in translation, her sentences are fluid and pleasing. While I'm not persuaded that the book is social satire motivated by a Swiftian spirit to mend the world, I found "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" a thought-provoking work. Furthermore, I applaud Europa editions for bringing contemporary European literature in translation to the American reader.

I have no experience with French concierges and perhaps Ms. Barbery has never met any of the confident, well-groomed, and resourceful concierges who work at American condominiums, at business buildings, and at hotels, and are hired for their abilities, rather than their disabilities. Reading "Hedgehog" I can't help but wonder how concierges all over the world regard this book. Perhaps as a novel that should have been set in the 19th, rather than the 21st century? And speaking of the 19th century, I wonder if Ms. Barbery ever read John Fowles' insightful novel, "The French Lieutenant's Woman." Fowles was able to create his character Sarah, a woman who finds herself in a situation similar to that of Renée, as a sympathetic victim, and also give us a satisfying plot in which Sarah in the end recognizes her own madness.

Finally, I believe the book should be judged by the author's own standards. In one chapter, Ms. Barbery, in the voice of Renée, teaches us the cherry plum test by which to discern worthwhile literature. You eat the plum while you read the book and see if the book can hold its own against the fruit. Says Renée, ". . . for there are very few works that have not dissolved--proven both ridiculous and complacent--into the extraordinary succulence of the little golden plums." In my opinion, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog," does not pass the cherry plum test.


Divisadero
Divisadero
by Michael Ondaatje
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.22

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE MAGIC DANCE OF MICHAEL ONDAATJE, 1 May 2011
This review is from: Divisadero (Paperback)
Some years ago, after Michael Ondaatje had written "The English Patient," I finagled an invitation to a private reading in Seattle that was held by the Canadian Consulate for an exclusive group of business executives. Upon arrival my husband and I were quickly unmasked as fakes, but, enduring the slings and arrows of whispered remarks and sidelong glances, we held our ground and remained for the reading. When Ondaatje appeared I found him a simple man in dress, humble in manner, and a diffident reader of his works. I recall thinking that if only I wrote prose like his I would strut, not fret, my hour upon the stage.

After reading this introduction, you'll probably not be very surprised by my confession that when it comes to Michael Ondaatje's works I'm like a besotted teenager faced with the object of her desire. I find his words magical; his creations dreamlike. Which brings me to "Divisadero," Ondaatje's most recent novel, a much debated and often maligned work.

In "Divisadero" Ondaatje explores the bonds of family: the family given us through blood-relation and the family we choose. Anna, is the only daughter of a Northern California widowed farmer who adopts another girl, Claire, when Anna's and Claire's mothers both die in childbirth. Born just hours apart, Claire becomes Anna's "twin." A boy, Coop, the orphaned son of a neighboring farm couple, is already part of the family. Divisadero is the story of these three. We meet them briefly as teenagers, we see the family torn apart, and then each of them continue their separate lives. Claire and Coop meet again, accidentally, but providentially.

Coop's story seems to strike some reviewers as the least satisfactory, charging the writer of having created and then abandoned this character. Coop represents the random violence all of us often face in life through war, fate, or of our own making. Coop's parents were murdered when he was just a boy, he is taken into this neighboring family, then expelled, cruelly and violently. Although he is a temperate man, violence follows him like his own shadow until Claire gently guides him home. This, to me, is a very poignant scene and satisfactory conclusion to Coop's story.

But Anna is the focus and storyteller of "Divisadero." Although she leaves home and country, her siblings and father are never far from her heart and mind. She finds her soul mate in the past life of Lucien Segura, a poet whose life story she explores as she settles into his house in the small village in Southern France and chooses his "adopted" son as lover and companion. This is where Ondaatje's writing turns truly magical. As Anna's and Segura's stories intertwine, the scenes become stunningly sensual, gorgeously trancelike.

When I finished "Divisadero," I felt such a loss, I had to re-read this book at once. I wanted again to take part in the lives of the ill-fated Marie-Neige and her husband, Roman, an incarnation of the enigmatic Coop, all raw rage, which he is unable to verbalize. I wanted again to eat a simple meal of herbs and onions grown in the garden of a small farm house in Southern France on a warm summer's day. And I wanted again to dance with no purpose with a cat. So find yourself a quiet corner in a garden or a sun-filled room and let one of our generation's greatest writers awaken your senses, touch your heart, and seduce you with this magic dance called "Divisadero."


The Reader
The Reader
by Prof Bernhard Schlink
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE READER AS ALLEGORY, 1 May 2011
This review is from: The Reader (Paperback)
"The Reader" by the German writer Bernhard Schlink is a slim work. In a narrative of a mere 224 pages, thinly cloaked as a love story, the writer takes all Germans--both pre- and post WWII generations--to task for the crimes of the Holocaust.

The story begins when a young boy becomes ill on his way home from school. A woman helps him. He's a good boy, from a nice family, living in a nice home. Once recovered, and at his mother's urging, he takes flowers to the woman who helped him when he became ill. Thus begins the May-December romance between 15-year-old Michael Berg and 35-year-old Hanna Schmitz.

Let's look back at the day of the rescue, the day Michael vomits at Hanna's doorstep. He is ill, wretched, miserable, and embarrassed. She assesses the situation and takes charge. The assistance she offers is decisive and efficient, accomplished as effortlessly as the "Anschluss" of Austria. Or, in the author's words, "When rescue came it was almost an assault."

The young Michael, whom Hanna calls "the kid," has never known a woman like her. Hanna is clearly from a different social class than his own family and friends. She is uneducated, works at menial jobs, and lives in a shabby, but clean apartment. Hanna makes no effort to seduce, yet beneath her stern exterior, she is oh so seductive. And like his parents, Hanna is emotionally unavailable. The pleasures she offers come on her own terms. As the relationship unfolds, he is at a loss to explain the times when her cool demeanor gives way to irrational outbursts. Warning signs of a troubled psyche to be sure, but there is no arguing with Hanna's anger; there is only acquiescence. "The kid"--eyes on the prize--submits.

Which young man or--if we accept the metaphor of Michael Berg as a stand-in for the German people--which country in the throes of infatuation heeds such warning signs? Smitten with a Fuehrer who would lead them away from wretchedness, who would turn shame to triumph, the German people submitted as eagerly as young Michael did. Thus, "the kid" traded away the innocent pleasures of his youth for the guilty secrets of adulthood, as willingly as Hitler's Germans surrendered their innocence for a taste of sin.

Then one day it's over. Hanna is gone, and Michael will never again find another woman who is able to take him to such heights of passion or depths of despair. The end of their affair is a shock to him, just as the end of the Nazi regime must have been a shock to the German populace. Abandoned by their Fuhrer, who escaped into death, they're left alone to explain their mad dream of the Third Reich and to face the accusing eyes of the rest of the world.

Michael and Hanna meet again when he's a law students sent to observe the trial of Auschwitz prison guards. She is one of them. During the trial, Michael discovers the secret she's kept all her life, a secret she's too ashamed to reveal. This secret will not absolve her from guilt, but decrease her lifetime sentence to a mere few years. Yet she keeps silent, as does he. Whose secret is he protecting? Hanna's or his? Just as his father kept silent about his role during the Nazi regime, Michael, who, by his actions as a boy linked his life to hers, now keeps silent as well.

As an adult, Michael Berg comes to exist in a state of emotional suspension. He says, "The worst were the dreams in which a hard, imperious, cruel Hanna aroused me sexually; I woke from them full of longing and shame and rage. And full of fear about who I really was." What an awakening it must have been for the German people when the dream was over, the truth revealed.

In the end, neither Hanna's imprisonment nor her death, like the death of Adolf Hitler, can atone for the silence of two generations of Germans. I applaud Bernhard Schlink for breaking that silence with his excellent novel, "The Reader."


Revolutionary Road (Vintage Classics)
Revolutionary Road (Vintage Classics)
by Richard Yates
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars DEAD ON ARRIVAL!, 29 April 2011
"Revolutionary Road" is the story of a couple who feel trapped in their traditional roles of mother/housewife, of father/provider. While Yates is a skilled writer, his main characters, Frank and April Wheeler, fail to illicit sympathy or even interest. This is truly unfortunate as the plot is a universal one. Many a young person, be that of the 20th century generation of "Revolutionary Road" or the 21st, has a dream of becoming someone unique, a dream often dashed by the need of making a living.

April and Frank Wheeler are a young couple who consider themselves artists of some kind or other. While reliving their parents' lifestyle of suburbia, replete with home, kids, and Frank's mind-dulling job to pay for it, they ridicule the very life they're living. If truth be told, it's hard to feel empathy for the Wheelers. They're so completely self-involved that they have little time even for their children. When April Wheeler bombs in her community theater acting debut, she promptly gives up and blames everyone else but herself. Frank Wheeler, while protesting to despise his father's career choice, goes to work for the same firm. When April comes up with a nutty escape scheme so Frank can quit his job and "find himself," the jig is up. While he agrees, he has no real intentions to go through with it. When Frank confesses an office affair, April's non-reaction doesn't ring true. At this point, the story disintegrates into one useless discussion after another, one silly scene followed by another. April has an affair with a neighbor she despises. Another neighbor's crazy son, the author wants us to believe, is the only character that speaks to the truth, but actually none of the characters are authentic. Tragedy follows tragedy as the story limps to an improbable ending.

In "Revolutionary Road," the real tragedy is that Richard Yates never fell in love with his own creation. With a writer who didn't care to explore the true depths of his characters' emotions, I pronounce this novel DOA.


The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Price: £4.80

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A CHARMER WITH TOO MANY COOKS?, 29 April 2011
"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" is a most charming book, indeed. It made me want to book a trip to this quaint little British island located off the coast of France. It also made me want to go about calling people "lovey."

The writer Juliet Ashton, living in post-WWII London and looking for inspiration for her next book, receives an inquiry from a Mr. Dawson Adams of Guernsey Island. A correspondence ensues with him, as well as other island dwellers, all members of "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." While explaining the odd name of their society, and how it came into being, the members fill the writer in on their hardships during the Nazi occupation. While Juliet is being wined and dined by the debonair Markham V. Reynolds, Jr. in London, it's not Mark, but the Guernsey islanders who steal her heart. Fascinated, she decides to seek them out.

The novel is written in epistolary form, which works nicely during most of the book. At first, Juliet writes from London and receives answers from Guernsey, from her publisher, Sidney; and her childhood friend, Sophie. However, once Juliet is on the island, she reports her daily activities and whatever information she gleans from the islanders with little response coming back to her. This does disturb the symmetry of this winsome novel. In addition, when Juliet's London beau Mark follows her to the island to propose, this charmer has been transformed into an ogre. I didn't buy it. Could not the author have found a kinder, gentler way of allowing our Juliet to fall into the arms of her true Romeo without resorting to vilifying poor Mark? I think I found the answer to my question after reading Mary Ann Shaffer's dedication to her niece Annie Barrows. Due to Ms. Shaffer's illness, Ms. Barrows ultimately finished the book. Not to discount the abilities of Ms. Barrows, an author in her own right, but I'm guessing what we have here is a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth.

My objections are minor ones. The novel's message that literature can lift you up during trying times is one I have always found to be true in my own life. "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" is a charmer. It will not only steal your heart but, I predict, increase tourism to this little British isle.


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