Thursday, May 31, 2018

Fierce by Barbara Robinette Moss

I've always liked Latin Composers.  Heitor Villa-Lobos was a Brazilian composer who wrote some marvelous pieces for the piano.  He also wrote a ballet.  If you'd like to listen to it, here is Overture for Dawn in a Rain Forest.

Fierce: A MemoirFierce: A Memoir by Barbara Robinette Moss

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Barbara Robinette Moss grew up dirt poor in rural Alabama. Here in Texas there is an un-compassionate term for people like her and her family: white trash. She was the fourth of eight children who found their strength in their long-suffering mother who threw herself in between her children and her hard-drinking, abusive husband. This is Moss' personal memoir and also perhaps a therapeutic exercise to make sense of her life and put her demons to rest.

There is much to commend about this book. For all its tragedy, it lacks bitterness. Moss writes about her family members with compassion. She sometimes questions God, but neither is she bitter towards him.

She gives a engaging, colorful account of her upbringing and the early years of her adulthood. She describes her fight to survive an alcoholic father and two abusive marriages. Her life as a single mom, going to school, raising her son the best she can is the best part. You feel their struggle through the poverty, going to college and then graduate school.

But there are gaps. She is living on the edge of financial straits. Then she's not. Where was the transition and how did it happen? She endures relationships with crazy boyfriends and then she's happily married to a stable man with a good job. Where did he come from? How did they meet?

She hops and skips. Where she focuses the story, the reading is quite vivid. But there are too many loose ends. Raising her young son, we see a Mama Bear with her arms wrapped around her baby cub. Then he's a teenager and sidelined. Was she too involved with her psychopathic lovers to notice her son anymore?

In all, we see a woman's story of how she unraveled and put herself back together again. Very good. But she could have connected more of the dots and tied up the loose ends. Too many gaps intrude upon the overflow.

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

Books from my TBR pile

 We were leaving for my son's graduation and would be gone for a week.  I was worried about my little green monster.   We have Allen, a college student, staying with us and he assures me he will play with Hercule, but I worry that he will be lonely.  I decided to do something about it.

Meet Lt. Foyle:

How will little Foyle and Hercule get along?  So far, Hercule is less than thrilled with his little friend.  We'll have to wait and see.

And now for something fun, but first, if you like vocal music, here is Renee Fleming singing Five Venetian Melodies by Gabriel Faure.

I got the idea from Travellin' Penguin's blog.  She spelled out the name of her blog with the titles of books from her TBR pile.  Ironically, with as many books on my own pile (or mountain) I could not spell out my blog's name with the titles so I used the name of the authors. This list is from my fiction TBR pile.  I may make another with my non fiction.  

G is for Graham Greene.  Of this collection, I've only read the Quiet American.

E is for Enrique Vila-Matas:  Never Any End to Paris

N is for V.S. Naipaul:  The Mimic Men

T is for Anthony Trollope:  Can You Forgive Her from The Palliser Novels

L is for D.H. Lawrence.  The whole collection.

Y is for W.B. Yeats: Irish Folk and Fairy Tales

M is for Thomas Mann:  The Magic Mountain

A is for Louis May Alcott:  Jo's Boys.

and D is for Charles Dickens:  Martin Chuzzlewit

 Are there any on my list you like?  Dislike?  Curious about?  I cannot promise when I will get around to reading any of them, much less reviewing them.  They are only nine books and I own 700 that I have yet to read.  Whew.  That was my big confession.  Anyone else as bad as me?  Please don't tell me that I win the longest TBR queue award.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Lions, Harts, Leaping Does and Other Stories by J.F. Powers

Here is Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto E Minor OP.64, performed by Hilary Hahn with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra.

This is another book I read while on the plane to Virginia Beach, where my son was graduating a couple of Saturdays ago.  I started the book about a year ago and couldn't get into it. This time, I gathered the author's style and intent and found the stories, if not riveting, rather interesting.

Lions, Harts, Leaping Does and Other StoriesLions, Harts, Leaping Does and Other Stories by J.F. Powers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Interesting collection of stories centered around the day to day lives of priests. I am not Catholic but I found the personalities, thoughts, trials and mundane details of the various priests existence to be interesting. Some of the stories are depressing, but some are quite funny.

One priest feels stuck in a small parish where he has been the underling to a superior priest for years. He dreams and hopes of getting his own parish. Yet he seems to persist in a stubborn unawareness that his ambition is what keeps him back. As well as his carnal and decidedly un-spiritual view of life.

Another priest chaffs under the skin flinty and domineering ways of the priest over him. In fact more than a few stories are about subordinate priests suffering under the authorities of a narrow-minded, old-fashioned and cheapskate priest in charge.

A couple of stories are narrated by a parish cat that is both poignant and humorous.

The final story is about a young man who wanted to become a priest but was not accepted into the seminary. He partners up with a man who is a bit of a con man and sells Catholic supplies to various priests. In this story we go from feeling sorry for the young man to realizing he's a bit of a shyster himself because it appears he was actually trying to avoid the draft.

These stories provide a unique cultural perspective in a certain faith, in the mid-west in the thirties, forties and fifties of the last century.

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And briefly, a free download on my Kindle: a book on poetry...

Modern British PoetryModern British Poetry by Louis Untermeyer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a collection of poets from the turn of the last century who were leaders in their genre. Untermeyer gives a brief biography and sketch of the development of each poet's craft followed by a couple of examples of their work. This book was written in 1911 so one has to realize that the word "modern" must be used inside that time frame.

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And here's a teaser:

Meet Lt. Foyle

But more about him next time...

Monday, May 21, 2018

Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited

Today for your listening pleasure are the subtle sounds of a sonata for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord by J.S. Bach.  Many of the commentators have praised this interpretation because the gamba does not overshadow the harpsichord, which allows for a true three-part counterpoint (you can hear all the melody lines clearly).

This is the second biography I've read of Hardy and I have one more on my biography bookcase (yes, I have devoted an entire book case to biographies and it doesn't even include my shelf of composer biographies.  That's in another room.).  One wonders how many biographies one needs to read of a writer who is not even a favorite.  The problem is I can never stop at one, because I like to get different perspectives, hoping that it will give me a more accurate picture of the subject.  Does anyone feel the same way?

Thomas Hardy: A Biography RevisitedThomas Hardy: A Biography Revisited by Michael Millgate

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was good to follow Robert Gittings' biography. I will say that Gittings' style was more colorful and he delved more into Hardy's personal life from every angle, which made it a more interesting read.

Millgate's biography focuses mostly on a chronology of Hardy's work and the details involved in getting each book published.

He touches upon Hardy's obsession with his "fantasy woman" whom he wrote into every one of his novels and barely nods at how that impacted his marriages and how it influenced the over all message in most of his stories. But he was much softer on Hardy than Gittings.

However, both discuss his self-absorption and bouts of deep depression. Lots of people suffer from depression; it's no different from any affliction: epilepsy, diabeties, and if you need to take medication for it, there is no shame in it. Some people, I think, exacerbate their conditions by not taking care of themselves, such as not eating right (diabetics) or taking their medication regularly (epileptics) and also some people are more depressed than they otherwise would be if they were not so selfish. This applies to Hardy.

He may have loved beautiful young women (his second wife was forty years younger than him and it didn't stop him from obsessing over the actresses who played his heroines or writing poetry about them) but I think he may have been toxic to them. Both his wives became chronically ill, probably made worse because he refused to spend any money on them or allow them to get medical help until it was too late.

But he is unique in that he was not only a preeminent Victorian author, but because of his great age, he lived to lead the school of modern expressionism in poetry. He was the inspiration to Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot and the rest of the Bloomsbury Circle. As far as I know he is the only British writer to cross the bridge from the 19th century to 20th century styles. In fact, he helped build the bridge.

In the words of one of his publishers, "He was a great author. He was not a great man."

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Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World by Abdu Murray

Note the decorative green electrical tape on my Mac's charger wire?  That is there to repair the destruction wreaked by my little green monster.  Beware the beak!!!

The following review is part of a book launch of which I am a Team Member.  I will also be posting my review on commercial sites as well.  Thanks to RZIM  for providing me with a free copy.  The following is my honest review:

Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth WorldSaving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-Truth World by Abdu Murray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My husband and I lead a college Sunday School class and our church did a series on how to share the gospel with unbelievers. The format of our Sunday School is to discuss the day's sermons and share thoughts and insights. The method our pastors took is called the "3 circle" message. Explain the fall of man, Christ's sacrifice and man's redemption through His sacrifice.

It is a basic message and I asked the students what they thought of it. The students in our particular class were mainly engineering students and, needless to say, pretty cerebral. One young man who was Vietnamese and a new convert to Christianity remarked that the basic circle, while accurately describing the Gospel, really did not answer the hard questions that he was getting pummeled with at school.

This started a series of discussions where we practiced asking and answering the type of questions that non-believers ask Christians.

That is where Saving Truth comes in. Do you have questions about God and how His Truth fits in today's society? Are you the one with questions or the one being asked these questions? Either way, this book is a good guide.

Saving Truth does not shy away from the current cultural tide of today. It tackles the issues of truth (is it relative, unknowable or non-existent?); sexual identity; is science and faith compatible?; religious pluralism and the dignity of human life.

One of the greatest deceptions that is being exalted by certain activist groups today is that they are on the side of the "victim". They are the saviors of people of certain life styles-transgenderism, LGBQT, women with an unwanted pregnancy, who are being "persecuted" by narrow "fundamentalist" religious groups. Murray carefully explains and supports that in fact the opposite is true.

Abdu Murray, with clear and acute insight, describes our society with both wisdom and compassion. I could spend pages describing the different truths he supports, but I suggest you read the book.

Here is a link if you'd like to preview the first chapter.

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Sunday, May 6, 2018

Love in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker

I think this song performed by a traditional Zulu choir is appropriate for today's post (I know the Zulu Nation is in the southwest part of South Africa, but I didn't find any Zimbabwe music I liked) .  And I'll say, even though it has nothing to do with this post, the most powerful final scene of any movie I have ever experienced is that last ten minutes of Zulu, made in 1964, starring Michael Caine.

Love in the Driest SeasonLove in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If I could give this book twice as many stars, I would. It is one of the most harrowing, riveting, heartbreaking and beautifully breathtaking books I have ever read and I believe every single person out there needs to read it too.

I remember the eighties when we were at the height of anti-South African sentiment as everyone (quite rightly) condemned apartheid. It has now been thirty years since South Africa, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have been freed from their white governments and have been governed by native Africans. How many people who decried white racism has followed up on those countries and studied their conditions today? How many people care?

If you read this book you will care. If you're like me you'll want to race to Zimbabwe or the other countries and adopt a boat load of children.

Except you can't. Not in Zimbabwe anyway, which is where this story takes place.

Neely Tucker was a foreign correspondent who with his wife, Vita, lived in Zimbabwe for a number of years while he covered news about African countries. The AIDS epidemic had wiped out a whole generation of parents leaving a generation of orphans. These babies were often left out for exposure and, if found, put in one of the orphanages that were already overflowing with orphans with few workers, even less qualified workers, and hardly formula or medicine for the infants, all who were sick, many infected with HIV. The death rate was horrific. Children died every week.

One would think that a desperate situation like this would make the government grateful for people who wanted to adopt. Guess again. Neeley and Vita started volunteering at a nearby orphanage, contributing what supplies they could and bringing orphans home on the weekends to give the exhausted workers a break. They fell in love with a baby, Chipa.

Chipa had been found in the desert, a newborn with the umbilical cord still attached, covered with ants. She was screaming as the ants bit her. She, fortunately was discovered, but how many weren't and suffered an agonizing death?

Neeley and Vita began the process to adopt but were told that foreigners were not allowed to adopt native children. So they decided to foster. This also proved almost impossible as the bureaucratic monster caused progress to inch along. I won't bore you with the tedious details, the hours they waited in line to get paper work done, only to have the paper work "lost" or "misplaced" the next time and they'd have to start all over again.

This went on for several months and in the meantime they came across a little boy they loved. They started the process with him as well. First they were able to take him home for the weekends. Like Chipa, he was grossly malnourished and ill but he rallied and become a bouncing baby.

Then one weekend they called the orphanage to get him and were casually informed of his death.

Now this is all sad enough, but the worst is the nightmarish violence that was happening all over Africa as militants slaughtered their way through towns and villages. As a correspondent he was called upon to report all of this. He saw charred remains of women, still holding their babies; he was standing near rubble from a terrorist explosion when he felt a crunch beneath his foot. He looked down to see that he had stepped into the rib cage of a dead child.

When I read about what is going on over there I get mad when citizens of my country talk as if they're living in some kind of dystopian reality because they don't like who got elected president. Go live in any African country for a while. It might give you some refreshing perspective.

Ironically, the President of Zimbabwe treated his people the way he accused the white supremacist government of acting. When President Mugabe was a reporter in the sixties he was jailed and tortured. As President he was the one arresting African journalists and torturing them. I'm sure when he was a school teacher, he was a good teacher. When he was a reporter he was probably a good one. As a president, he was incompetent.

And he was corrupt. Securing kickbacks for his cronies and family, he lived palatially while his countrymen starved. When people began protesting, he needed a scapegoat. Foreigners were handy and so were African journalists. Both were "defaming his character" and turning public opinion against him.

People were tired of his rants and when he decided to pass a law that would allow the government to confiscate land from the remaining white farmers, no one was impressed and he was voted out.

Except he did not go out. He sent henchmen on killing sprees and held another election. He was still voted out. Again he sent henchmen who murdered most of his opposition. He won and was the longest ruling African governor (first as Prime Minister, then as President) until he died last year (2017).

I do not know how the Tuckers endured so much for so many months for the sake of Chipa. I would have had a nervous break down. But they stuck it out and are the proud parents of a beautiful girl.

Tucker's writing is fluid and alive. You are no longer where ever you are sitting to read the\is book. You are in Africa and you can see the people and the Veldt and the heat and the desperation of so many lives.

This is probably going to the top of my favorite books for this year and if I could, I would buy every single one of you a copy.

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