Sunday, September 16, 2018

Men at Arms by Evelyn Waugh

I can't remember if I introduced you to our latest addition.  This is Columbo.  Hercule was being less than friendly to Lt. Foyle so I got him a little friend his own size.

And here is Liszt's lovely Liebestraum.  I alliterated that without even trying.

Men At ArmsMen At Arms by Evelyn Waugh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second book I have read by Waugh. The first was Brideshead Revisited and while it was interesting, it was a bit morose.

"That little tick wants his bottom kicked, " said Major Erskine. "I think I shall kick it. Good for him and pleasant for me."

That is my favorite line and I like repeating it to myself. That is also a good sample of the wit Waugh exercises on every page of Men at Arms.

Consequently I liked Men at Arms much better than Brideshead Revisited. Our hero Guy Crouchback is too old to enlist for WWII but wants to and finally is accepted into the Halbediers Unit. He is one of two older men, the other being Apthorpe. Both of them go through preliminary training with young men who call them "Uncle". Finally they are sent off to war and we learn how they fair there.

Most of the book takes place during their training time and we meet quite a bundle of interesting characters. Waugh is able to make his characters comical without being cartoony, which I appreciate. This book is really funny, even though it deals with a serious subject matter.

The story is from Guy's point of view, but with third person narration. One could almost feel sorry for Guy as we see the younger men try to take advantage of him and Apthorpe himself seems to manipulate Guy in ways that Guy can only appreciate later as a less than fortunate thing.

But Guy has strains of tenacity and learns to fend for himself, while he circulates with men, some of who are not altogether sane.

I won't give away the story, there isn't much of one. This is a character-driven book and the characters are interesting. Not a dull one anywhere and if you enjoy reading about the funny and sometimes zany antics of a bunch of grown men trying to prepare themselves to fight in a war, you will like this book.

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Yankee Doodle Went to Church: The Righteous Revolution of 1776 by James L. Adams

Here is the incomparable Martha Argerich playing Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit no. 1 Ondine

Hercule flew away and was gone for two days.  I was heart broken.  We had a friend over for dinner Thursday night and neither Josh nor I was good company because we kept looking out the window, hoping to see if our little Hercaloo had come back.  

Friday afternoon, I heard a familiar "squawk".  Up in the tree in my front yard was my little Hercy.  He was trying to fly down, but like a little kid on the high dive, was frightened.

Without worrying what passersby or the neighbors thought, I stood below the tree with my arms spread out.  He finally took the plunge, flying over me and into my picture window.  When he bounced onto the ground I grabbed him and brought him inside.  I am so grateful to God.  I was praying hard.

In the meantime, Josh was looking in the papers to see if someone had found little Herc and instead found someone trying to re-home their burbie.

We'd like you to meet the newest addition of our family, Cosmo the Quaker parrot.  He is just a cuddle bug. He loves my keeties (Hercule hates them) and is learning to get along with my little green monster.

Hercule, like the older sibling is a little jealous, but he is also intrigued.  They've been warming up to each other little by little.

               I love my Hercy Poo.  I'm so glad he's safely back.


Yankee Doodle Went to Church/the Righteous Revolution of 1776 
Yankee Doodle Went to Church/the Righteous Revolution of 1776 by James Lewis Adams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting analysis as to how the colonialists were inspired to break away from the English crown and govern themselves.

Because the focus is on the role religious leaders played in the revolution, I found Adams' argument a little simplistic, but I have no doubt that what he says is true, if limited in its scope.

In a nutshell, Adams places the responsibility of revolt squarely on the shoulders of Puritan preachers and specifically one Unitarian preacher who used the Bible to justify breaking the yoke of the "oppressors", thus justifying a war against the governing authorities.

Other preachers, loyalists, argued that it was not scriptural to revolt but rather to respect the government that God had appointed. (Romans 13:1-7)

We learn a good deal of the various religious leaders of the time, the good, the bad and the ugly and the same could be said for the congregants.

Some may be surprised to know that fewer American citizens were church members in the 18th century than today. The reason is due to the difficulty in joining a church back then. Puritan leaders wanted to ensure that anyone joining the church had undergone a genuine conversion experience. This is rather different than the "inclusive" environment many churches today wish to exude. One wonders who had the most authentic believers. Today's churches or the colonial ones.

People today may also be surprised to learn that a major reason for the Puritans' revolutionary attitude is because they did not want the Church of England, the church that was hand in hand with the government in England, the church they left England to escape, to re-establish itself in the New World. It was not just Jefferson who did not want the government interfering with the free practice of religion.

Ironically Jefferson's words today have been re-interpreted to mean that the government does have a right to interfere with the free practice of religion, if it conflicts with secular philosophies.

The final chapters end with an enlightening description of a couple of Loyalists and their side of the story. I found this side to be little told but very interesting. I would like to get more information on the people who sided with England.

I think today they are called Canadians.

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 Cosmo is a daddy's bird.  He'll fly to Josh, but not to me (yet).

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Sands of Mars and The Deep Range by Arthur C. Clarke

It was my birthday last Saturday.  I always love my birthdays.  First of all, I am thankful to be alive another year.  I have friends who have not been so blessed.  As usual I got exactly what I wanted.  My husband gave me the modernist tea set.  I love this kind of art.

Here is Mozart's Symphonies nos. 40 and 41 to make the next hour of your life joyful.

Here's two reviews on a couple of Science Fiction books I read, both by Arthur C. Clarke:

The Sands of MarsThe Sands of Mars by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am attracted to Science Fiction from the first half of the twentieth century. I like the cover art from the paperbacks; I like the retro feel from the stories too.

If you like books based primarily on world building, then you will enjoy this book. If you depend more on a story-line with an arc and characters that are well-developed, this story may disappoint.

Martin Gibson is a writer and he has been selected to fly on a spaceship to Mars and send back news to Earth. Earth wants to know if the efforts and financial expense to colonize the planet is worth continuing. Mars hopes that his reports will encourage their home planet to continue their support.

The first half of the book takes place on the ship where Gibson learns his way around and gets to know the astronauts. Each astronaut has a strong distinctive character and I am sorry that they did not play a larger role in the story. As soon as the ship lands on Mars, they all but disappear and the story shifts to Gibson's observations of the land he sees and the work the colonists have done to make it inhabitable for humans.

Maybe this would have been interesting if it was non fiction, but just reading one person's idea of what living on another planet would be like is not my cup of tea, but other readers might like it. For me it felt like reading a text book on ecology.

There are moments of tension, but they are brief. Mostly it's comparable to a mechanical Disney ride where one sits and observes the scenery while your cart takes you around the different "lands".

If you're a Six Flags type of person, you might go for something with a little more suspense.

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The Deep RangeThe Deep Range by Arthur C. Clarke

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like the last Clarke I reviewed, this book relies heavily on world building. A plot is practically non-existent. Clarke simply wants to share a possible vision for the future.

Walter Franklin was an astronaut, with a wife and children on Mars. A traumatic experience on his spaceship left him mentally and emotionally disturbed. He cannot return to space and is therefore stuck on Earth for the rest of his life. His family can never join them because since they were born and raised on Mars, their bodies are too light for Earth where the heavier gravity would kill them. A convenient caveat Clarke arranged in order to justify his story line, which is to give Franklin a new love on Earth, even though it is peripheral to his main idea.

Franklin now works at a Marine Center where he has learned to drive underwater subs to monitor sea life and maintain herds of whales which are used as sources of food, the way cows are now.

With his new co-worker, Don Burley, we see a future world underwater and how it functions to support human life.

As I have said, there are few bumps in Clarke's story. He just wants us to envision what life would be like a hundred years from 1957 and how life would operate. I found a lot of his descriptions about as interesting as reading a "how-to" manual because much of what he writes is, well, how to operate a sub, how the sub operates in the water, herds whales, fends off killer whales and sharks etc...

I would have liked a little more development between Franklin and Burley, there was a lot of potential there that he only touched upon as they start their relationship cynical and distrustful of each other, eventually allowing a grudging mutual respect to finally admiration and friendship.

The woman he marries on Earth is interesting-she's a marine biologist who studies vitamin levels in shark livers- until they marry, then she is relegated to the background as someone he kisses good bye as he leaves for work and the mother of his children.

Again, people who like world-building and don't care about character or plot development will enjoy the book.

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

Some Will Not Die by Algis Budrys

I guess I am on a Violin Concerto kick these days.  Here is Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61: I. Allegro ma non troppo by New York Philharmonic Orchestra.  The soloist is Hilary Hahn.  I am just becoming acquainted with her playing.  I think she displays a controlled power tempered by a refined and polished technique.

 This is the third book by Algis Budrys I have read but it won't be the last.  I have a few to go.  

The reason is because Josh and I were visiting one of our favorite bookstores, Gladewater Books.  

Let me interrupt myself here and say that Gladewater is a rinky dink town, twenty minutes west of my home with a population of 6, 427 and I'm pretty sure that includes everybody's dogs.  But they have a fabulous bookstore (and about a million antique stores, if you're interested).  The owner and his wife are both lawyers.  He was a prosecution attorney in Houston and came to Gladewater to relax.  He picked the right place.  If you have high blood pressure, move to Gladewater.

But as I said, it boasts of a wonderful bookstore run by this retired attorney and his wife, who is not retired which probably takes the stress off of trying to stay in business.

Recently they hired a young girl who knows where every single book you've ever wanted is in the bookstore.  And that's saying a lot because there's a lot of books.

Anyway, I had just read Algis Budrys' marvelous "Who?" and was eager to get my hands on more of Budrys' books.  The girl, who is maybe almost intrusively friendly, asked if I needed help.  Usually I like to browse without a store clerk following me around begging to help me, but this time I asked,

"Have any Algis Budrys?"

She ran off so fast I thought I had offended her, but shortly she came back with a pile of old paperbacks and handed them to me.  

And that, folks, is why I now own quite a few Budrys and you will be reading the reviews of all of them before the year is out.

While "Who?" was very good, the second, "Michaelmas", was a bit of a bore.  Budrys can get bogged down in minutiae, which really does not propel the plot.  I would place "Some Will Not Die" above Michaelmas and below "Who?"  The review below will hopefully tell why.

Some Will Not DieSome Will Not Die by Algis Budrys

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book to my husband as we were traveling from Virginia Beach to Washington D.C. I think if I was not reading this to Josh I would have given up on it. However, I am glad I finished it because the story was not without merit. I will briefly describe the plot, what I liked and what I didn't like.

A plague has hit America and the country is plunged into a culture of barbarism. Everyone is out for themselves, pillaging and looting and killing or being killed.

In New York City, Matthew Garvin is one man who struggles to survive, even killing his best friend (which is understandable because his friend wanted to eat him). He stumbles across a woman who is trying to steal medicine out of an abandoned pharmacy for her father. Garvin and the girl team up, cover each other for snipers on the roofs of buildings.

They finally reach the apartment but the father dies anyway. Garvin lives with the young woman and together they manage to scrape out a living.

One day, the encounter their neighbors and risk getting to know them. They team up and with the leadership of his neighbor, Gustav Berendsten, they eventually unite with all the tenants of their building. This leads ultimately to uniting with other apartments, which inevitably leads to turf and power wars. Berendsten wants to unite all people and he ruthlessly attempts it after building a powerful army which fights other factions.

The story jumps back and forth between prologues which are in the future and the past. Each new section takes place with a different generation. We see that America develops from tribal warfare, to gentry that fights with other towns to people eventually learning to live civilly with each other.

I liked how Budrys kept the story growing and not stagnate. We see multiple generations and how they differ from their forefathers. Budrys writes convincing, powerful characters that are worth reading about.

I did not like the detailed information about war strategy. It was just too mundane for me. However, Josh did like that so hopefully I provided everyone with enough information to decided whether this book is for them.

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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Stonewall Jackson: The Good Soldier by Allen Tate

From a swing my mother and I were sitting on at Boggy Bayou, a little finger full of water that splinters off of Choctawhatchee Bay.  I miss those afternoons, but I'm glad to be back home with my hubby huggy bear.
I am in Texas, but I still dream of Florida.

I have been listening to Rhapsody in Blue by George Gershwin, but with a new twist.  The American jazz pianist, Schickeria, played the cadenza.  It was a live performance on the radio and I cannot find it on YouTube which is a shame because I have never heard a more fantastic cadenza than the one Schickeria played.  However, here is a recording with, I think, the composer at the piano.

This is the second book I read out loud to my mother when I was visiting my parents.  We did not quite finish it before I had to return to Texas so I read the final chapters to her over the phone as Derek and I were driving through Mississippi.

Stonewall Jackson: The Good SoldierStonewall Jackson: The Good Soldier by Allen Tate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This biography of Stonewall Jackson is a worthy read in a couple of ways.

One, the background and description of the battles, even though from a Southern perspective, are accurate and informative.

Tate's description of Stonewall Jackson is even handed, even though Jackson is a somewhat mysterious figure about which not a whole lot is known.

What makes this book interesting, as long as it doesn't offend you, is that it was written in 1927 by the poet Allen Tate in an attempt to renovate the reputation of the South and make a defense for their war.

Tate is a Southerner through and through so while his facts are clear and accurate and his description of Jackson not gushing nor even particularly flattering, his opinions as to the outcome of various battles probably differ than most people's today.

His terminology is slanted toward a legitimate Secession. He refers to Jefferson Davis as "President Davis" and Lincoln as "The Northern President." He faults Davis for losing the war for the South as well as a few Generals he felt were over complacent. He thinks Jackson is eccentric but effective, most of the time.

The only person in his biography with which he finds no fault is General Robert E. Lee.

People looking for a complete record of the Civil War will be disappointed as this historical record ends with Jackson's unexpected death in 1963, two years before the war ended.

Needless to say I disagree with the author's attitude but I think it is invaluable to read this dated piece of historical record in order to remember and understand the attitudes and culture of a past time.

I look forward to reading S.C. Gwynne's Rebel Yell and compare the two biographies of this fascinating historical figure, who I may say, had he lived, might have turned the war around. In my opinion, as much as I respect Jackson's abilities; I think our country benefited from his death.

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Tudor Kings and Queens: the Dynasty That Forged a Nation by Alex Woolf

For your listening pleasure here is Leonard Bernstein's On the Waterfront, from the Movie starring Marlon Brando.

While I was in Florida, each evening I read to my mother.  The first book we read was about the Tudor Dynasty.  We both love history, in fact my mother has a Master's Degree in American History with a concentration on Native Americans, particularly the tribes of Florida.  Her thesis was on the Panhandle of Florida and its history and how it developed to how it is today.
In front of my own waterfront. Destin, Florida.

The Tudor Kings & Queens: The Dynasty That Forged a NationThe Tudor Kings & Queens: The Dynasty That Forged a Nation by Alex Woolf

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting overview of the Tudor line starting with Henry VII in 1485, moving on to Henry VIII whose reign was 1509-1547. After King Henry VIII we have the brief reigns of Edward VI and Mary I, not forgetting the even briefer reign of Lady Jane Grey somewhere between the last two before finally concluding with the Virgin Queen, Elizabeth I whose reign 1558-1603 finished the Tudor Dynasty.

The chapters are brief but give a good overview of each King or Queen's rule. We learn their character, the good the bad, the ugly, their effectiveness as domestic governing abilities, their foreign policies and their legacies.

Little is known about Henry VII but Henry VIII easily fills up eight chapters. He did, after all, throw off the yoke of Roman Catholic rule and started a uniquely English church with himself as the Ruler. What followed was a lot of upheaval as monasteries and convents and their wealth and properties were confiscated and used to fill the coffers of the King.

Henry's marriages are infamous, of course, but in Woolf's history we get to know each woman a little better; which ones were innocent victims; which were scheming hussies, who died by the axe and who died from sickness.

Edward did not live long enough to make a difference, but was more of a political tool by other people trying to manipulate power. We learn about the scheming powers behind the throne, many succeeded but a lot ended up losing their head or being hanged and drawn and quartered.

I must say, I did not realize there were two Mary's and we learn about both. Both were Catholic, but only one was Bloody Mary and that was the Queen of England. She killed thousands of Protestants in an attempt to terrorize the country into reverting to the Roman religion. Scottish Mary was really more foolish in her choice of husbands then anything else. Her scandals ultimately undid her and she ended up spending the rest of her life in prison under Queen Elizabeth I before finally being condemned to death.

And we end with Queen Elizabeth I and her legacy, one of which was to build the most powerful navy in the world. But she had her own intrigues and scandals.

All in all, an enjoyable read and an excellent overview of a famous dynasty.

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Sunday, August 5, 2018

Hell in Japanese Art by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka

Today I thought it would be appropriate to listen to some traditional Japanese music while reading today's post.  I picked some relaxing music, because the book I have reviewed is anything but.

My nephew took these photos of my son, Derek and niece, Athena in Denton, Texas.  I doctored them up a bit for fun.  I could do that for hours.

I like book covers.  I think the last would make a great book cover.  I just need to find a story to go with it.

Hell in Japanese ArtHell in Japanese Art by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is quite simply one of the most fascinating books I have ever read or seen.

I had become curious about the concept of hell in other cultures and came across this book as a result. It is not only enlightening concerning Japanese belief in the afterlife but also particularly in Buddhist writings of the after life.

It was surprising because all I had ever heard of Buddhism was reincarnation; but according to the ancient writings recorded in this book, there is a fiery furnace and exquisite suffering to endure before given another chance. However, the most minute sins are punished so I wonder how anyone can hope to escape returning to punishment.

Buddhism, at least the strain practiced in traditional Japan is quite elaborate and complex in its descriptions of hell. Like Dante's Inferno, there are several layers, but far more intricate and many, many more levels.

There is the realm of the angry demons. This is where evil spirits constantly battle with heavenly beings.

Then there is the realm of human beings. There are hell chambers for every conceivable sin. To name a few: there is the hell of repetitions, the hell of lamentations, the hell of greater lamentations, hell for priests and so many more.

The Buddhist scripture describe each realm in graphic detail, explaining the sins (greed, adultery, hurting animals, abusing authority, stealing etc...) and the specific tortures in each level the condemned person is sentenced to and for how long.

The scripture spares no detail as to every gruesome agony someone endures. Killing animals incurs torture, killing humans, another type of torture, telling a lie incurs another horrible torture.

But the writing is only half of the book. Japanese artists throughout the ages have painted large, ultra-detailed depictions of each and every type of torture. The most profound to me are the people diving head long into flames.

In fact, fire is the main feature of every chamber of hell and figures prominently in the paintings. These paintings are not only on scrolls or canvas but also triptychs and furniture, such as dressers.

/>Finally, there is a tradition Japanese male jacket with full length prints of paintings of people tortured. I do not know why someone would wear such a thing, but I bet it is a conversation starter. At least in American it would. Maybe Japanese form of etiquette doesn't permit frank discussion of hellish attire.

In short, if one wants to learn about the nether world in Japanese Buddhist beliefs as will as witness a visual account. This book is an excellent choice.

For those interested in buying the book, it is over 500 hundred pages long, but most of it is full page paintings of entire works and also close up details. All the images are in color.

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