Saturday, July 30, 2011

Book Review Blog Carnival # 74

Welcome the the July 31, 2011  edition of the Book Review Blog Carnival. Every other Sunday the carnival appears at a blog, somewhere in blogtopia. I am the founder of this carnival and today, it's host.

We have 24 entries in this edition. The books reviewed range from children's science fiction/fantasy to a discussion of the "fly by wire" system used in Airbus airplanes. There should be something here for you. Please leave a comment, even if you just say hello, both here and aany of the blogs you visit, that are linked here.

The next Book Review Blog Carnival will be hosted by Man of La Book on August 14th. If you write book reviews on your blog and would like to participate, you can submit your reviews using this form. Now, on to the book reviews . . .

JHSEsq at Colloquium says Stiltsville, the debut novel from Susanna Daniel, "is a deceptively simple, ordinary, yet beautiful story of a marriage spanning more than two decades. It is set in Florida near the community of houses built on stilts in Biscayne Bay which serve as a metaphor for both the delicacy and resilience of human relationships. Put this one on your must read list!"

Heather,at Proud Book Nerd, just adores Forever, the third book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series by Maggie Stiefvater. I take it that this is a romance novel who's central characters are wolves, sort of a Watership Down for carnivores.

Rachel at Books In The Sun, reviews The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. ". . . the story of an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who embarks on an adventure from his homeland in Spain to North Africa in search of a treasure buried in the Pyramids."

Zohar, who must have a lot of free time in his hands, reviews Next to Love by Ellen Feldman, at Man of la Book.

Read Aloud Dad finally went out nd bought Lemony Snicket's The Complete Wreck: A Series of Unfortunate Events despite all his misgivings. "Happiness is overrated."

Lauren Shook, at RE//all things new. read Cry, the Belloved Country by South African author Alan Paton. Cry, the beloved country, for the unborn child that is the inheritor of our fear.  Let him not love the earth too deeply.  Let him not laugh too gladly when the water runs through his fingers, nor stand too silent when the setting sun makes red the veld with fire.  Let him not be too moved when the birds of his land are singing, nor give too much of his heart to a mountain or a valley.  For fear will rob him of all if he gives too much.

Crime Fiction

KerrieS enjoyed the peek that VILLAIN, by Shuichi Yoshida gave her into modern Japanese culture. Her review is at MYSTERIES in PARADISE.

Fantasy and Science Fiction

J. McManus may have already given away a copy of  Talee and the Fallen Object offered at Inside The Books. - A Sci Fi Fantasy coloring book.

Jason Ward presents the classic The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl & Cyril M. Kornbluth,  at ScifiWard Mad Men with rocket ships.

Non Fiction

Rebecca, or possibly one of her friends, gives us something to think about with a review of Review of The Garden of Emuna by Rabbi Shalom Arush , posted at Book Nerd - High Quality Book Reviews. "Why are some rich and some poor? Why is life so unfair? This book gives you the answers and lets you in on a secret that can change your life!"

Jo Bryant reviews Black Like Me at Chronicles of Illusions. This was a revolutionary book when it first came out in 1961. It canstill change you forever.
Mike Bergin, of  10,000 Birds, brings us the oldest book in this month's carnival, Aelian's On The Nature Of Animals, by the ancient Roman author Claudius Aelianus.  I wonder if there is a Kindle edition.

Malia Russell, at Homemaking 911, recommends The Companion Guide to Beautiful Girlhood for your ten year old, but suggests you read it together. Find out why at Homemaking 911.

 SillySimple highly recommends Urban Pantry: Tips and Recipes for a Thrifty, Sustainable & Seasonal Kitchen at Silly Simple Living. "Focuses on maintaining a frugal, simple, and delicious pantry with top-notch ingredients while living in a small city apartment."

Zohar, the unfatigued,  reviews Fly Navy  by Alvin Townley, a book about naval aviation, at Man of la Book.

Alex Washoe presents A Flock of New Books for Birders at Birdland West.

Art, The Helpful Engineer, reports on a fascinating book about  The Airbus A320 and the miracle on the Hudson, Fly by Wire by William Langewiesche, which gives partial credit for the safe landing of the Airbus A320 on the Hudson River on it's controversial computerized control systems.


I was recently lent a copy of Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life. Molly Ivins was the enfant terrible of Texas journalism. My review appears in this very blog.

Zohar,  Man of la Book,  has read First Man  by James R. Hansen. It is a biography of Neil Armstrong, the first man on the Moon.

Jim Murdoch stumped me with A.J. Cronin – The Man who Created Dr Finlay by Alan Davies posted at The Truth About Lies. ".J. Cronin, the creator of Dr Finlay’s Casebook, has been unjustly overlooked by literary biographers. In this, the first full-length life of this eminent writer, Alan Davies recounts the story of Cronin’s Scottish childhood, his subsequent medical career and ultimately his rise to literary prominence, focusing on Cronin’s tempestuous relationship with his publisher, Victor Gollancz, and revealing some startling revelations about the author’s marriage. Davies’s timely and moving book paints a clearer portrait of both Cronin the writer and Cronin the man than the world has hitherto seen." I guess PBS didn't carry the Dr. Finlay series.

Health and Self Help

Kristjan Gunnarson, of Kris Health Blog, reviews The Diet Solution Program by Isabel De Los Rios.  Isabel of the rivers: cool name.

Persha Davis reviews Getting Past Your Breakup:Good Book To Starting Moving On With Life After A Breakup at Dumped Days. I have a suggestion that might help. Change the name and focus of that blog!

Utpal Vaishnav, of Utpal Writes, has found a method for Discovering Your Dharma in a book  by Shivani Singh. Overcome that nagging discontent that plagues your soul.

Jason Ward , of The Word of Ward, learned a few things from Tricks of the Mind by Derren Brown. Jedi mind tricks?


Jessica Bell's Twisted Velvet Chains is a memoir, written in verse by the daughter of Australian punk rock star Erica Bach, reviewed by Jim Murdoch, of The Truth About Lies.

Obama's Wars

 Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward has  been given greater access to the White House, than any journalist I can think of, in the George W, Bush and now Obama administrations. His four books about George Bush's pursuit of the war showed an arc from admiration for, to disillusionment with, the pursuit of war, particularly in Iraq.

This is the first, presumably, in a series which will record the Obama administrations efforts to bring the Afghan war to a conclusion. The problem is that there are no clear goals to this war. According to Woodward, General McChrystal, the commander in Afghanistan at the beginning of Obama's term, and Defense Secretary Gates presented President Obama with a series of requests for more troops and an untenable plan to defeat the Taliban. Defeating the Taliban is described, by Woodward,  as an impossibility, because they are a non state, like al-Qaeda itself, loose, amorphous and shifting like sand.

Obama ordered a review, asking for options, recognizing the problem with stating that the defeat of the Taliban was problematical, yet all of the options given to him by the military were presented as untenable, with the exception of  a large "surge" dedicated to defending the population of Afghanistan from Taliban attack. The Pentagon's own analysis, however, showed that more than 80,000 US troops would be needed to make the entire country safe from Taliban attack, yet this many troops could not be gathered for the effort. The request was for 40,000: half of what was needed to do the job. Another unattainable goal, increasing the Afghan military and police to 400,000, was part of this plan. 

Obama asked for options and was given plans for a small deployment of 10,000 to train the Afghan army and the full, but not available 80,000 troops, or a surge of 35,000 instead of 40,000, but with the option to add a few thousand more if needed.  Eventually the 35,000 plus plan was what he went for.  "Defeating" the Taliban was changed to "degrading" them, making them less capable of causing serious damage in Afghanistan, meanwhile, building a 400,000 strong Afghan military/police to take over as we quietly exit stage left.

July of 2011 was set as the start date of a U.S. draw down.  Right now that withdrawal is beginning. This all looks like Nixon's "peace with honor" plan for Vietnam. I expect the fall of Kabul in the next couple of years. Unfortunately, this is probably the best we can do in the situation.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Molly Ivins

A Rebel Life
Bill Minutaglio and W. Michael Smith

I had a bottle of Shiner Bok this evening in preparation for writing a review of this celebration of the life of l'enfant terrible of Texas journalism.  Minutaglio and Smith have written Ivins life from her childhood in a wealthy Houston neighborhood to her death of breast cancer at 62.

Who was Molly Ivins rebelling against? Her father of course! Jim Ivins was a WWII Coast Guard veteran, a lawyer, an oil company executive and, somewhat of a martinet. His family called him General Jim.

Growing up in General Jim's home in Houston, Molly was exposed to the same private school/country club lifestyle that George W. Bush was experiencing. The two knew each other "to say hello," but were never close. Molly was expected to find a suitable husband, either at the club or later when she attended her mother's alma mater, Smith College; preferably a Yale man. She would then settle down and have children who would do the same, perpetuating the generations of  o'l bidness tycoons. It didn't work out that way.

 Ivins' folksy east Texas persona was not entirely a put on, yet she did study at Smith and Columbia School of Journalism. She studied a year abroad in Paris and spoke French like a native. She also lived in New York and worked for a while, unhappily, at the New York Times. The place she liked to be, though, was Austin and her favorite job was editor of the Texas Observer, a liberal, no holds barred publication, covering the Texas legislature and the Governor's office.

As a columnist, Ivins was perfectly placed to write, in her own critically sarcastic way, about "Dubya," her old country club buddy, as Governor of Texas and then as President. In a way the man she called "Shrub" would make her career for her. Having George Bush to rub her columns up against gave her writing a great deal of traction and some wonderful subject matter.

Molly Ivins A Rebel Life, does not quote from Ivin's writing very much at all, assuming that readers will be familiar with her columns and her commentaries on NPR. This may not be the case any longer, so I'll throw in a few quotes that I gleaned from the internet. Here's a bit of a piece she wrote in 2006, which has a little relevance today. It concerns the former Speaker of the House, now an imploding candidate for President; Newt Gingrich:

Of all the viral members of the media who have been suggesting that the Dems cooperate with their political opponents, the one who rendered me almost unconscious with surprise was Newt Gingrich.
Newt Gingrich, the Boy Scout. Newt Gingrich, the man who sat there and watched Congress impeach and try Bill Clinton for lying about having an extramarital affair while he, Newt Gingrich, was lying about having an extramarital affair. (This all took place during his second marriage. The first one ended when he told his wife he was divorcing her while she was in the hospital undergoing cancer treatment.)

This is the level of Republican hypocrisy that reminds us all how far the Dems have to go. I tell you what. Let's all hold hands together and sing, "Oh the Farmers and the Cowboys Should Be Friends!" Just not, please, Newt Gingrich, the man whose contribution to civility was to recommend that all Democrats be referred to with such words as cowards, traitors, commies, godless, liars and other such bipartisan-promoting terms.

Please, anyone but Newt.

I would recommend reading some of Molly Ivins columns before tackling her biography. One of her published collections (Molly Ivins Can't Say That Can She?, You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You, Nothin' But Good Times Ahead) would do, or you can get a quick look online at AlterNet.  If you are of a conservative bent, expect to be outraged. Also expect to be entertained and, possibly, educated.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011


Marilynne Robinson

Gilead is the first book I have read on my new Kindle. It was a reader's review book on the Diane Rhem show last week and, when I checked the Kindle store, there it was. 

Marilynne Robinson won a Pulitzer Prize for Gilead in 2005. The book is written as a journal or long letter, from John Ames, a 76 year old Congregationalist minister, to his six year old son, to be read some day when that son is an adult. Ames knows that he will not live to see his son grow up. In fact he is expecting to die at any moment because of his heart condition.

John Ames is the third generation of preachers in his family, all named John Ames, I believe. His grandfather, and his church, helped John Brown when he was raiding pro-slavery communities in Kansas before the Civil War and he may have ridden in some of those raids himself. His father was pastor in the same church in the (fictional) town of Gilead Iowa that Ames is now, now being 1957.

There are a number of major themes running through the book. Mortality, of course, but also romantic love as an unexpected, uncontrollable force. Ames fell for, and married, a much younger woman, the mother of his six year old son, at the age of 69. One of the other characters has had a child with a "colored" woman. Remember that this is 1957.  Ames feels a great deal of anxiety for his wife and child, whom he cannot live to care for in the years to come, or provide for from his very small savings.  Jack Boughton, named John Ames Boughton by his Presbyterian minister father, AAmes life long friend, is rejected by the family of his common law wife and loses her and his child, because he is white. Love is creative and also destructive in Gilead, as in life.

Ames and Jack talk  about predestination in one chapter. Jack is afraid that he may be cursed, depraved, and predestined to a life of suffering here and hereafter. He is someone who has made a number of bad choices in life and caused a lot of harm to himself and others. At one point Ames says that he is unable to forgive Jack for what he has done. He does acknowledge that God may forgive him. Ames answer to Jack's question about predestination amounts to "I don't know." Eventually the reader is let in on the secret, which runs through several chapters, of what terrible thing Jack has done. It turns out to be rather mundane, as Ames says all sin is, if horribly consequential.

A number of clergymen called in to the Diane Rhem show during the discussion about Gilead. All of them said that it was an accurate description of the life of a minister. (I don't think they were talking about Ames' rather wacky grandfather.) Their response to the book was the main impetus for my downloading and reading it. It is not a fast paced, action packed thriller but I couldn't put it down.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Kindle Has Arrived at My House

My family gave me a Kindle for Fathers' Day.  All the nice things you have heard about e-ink and how readable it is are absolutely true. A Kindle is still not a book, though. There is no nice paper smell and you don't get the feel of the pages in your hand. It also comes without the cover art, if that is important to you.

My Kindle is one of the wi-fi only ones, which is fine, I don't need to download books while driving down the interstate. It's probably illegal in several states anyway. The Kindle has a primitive web browser and I have gotten to Gmail with it but have not succeeded in opening any email as of yet. It is really an awkward device to use for web browsing anyway, with it's tiny screen, black and white display and hard to use little qwerty keyboard. There is no mouse or track pad, just a "five way" navigation button.

The Kindle Store is always at your fingertips, with a lot of books, some magazines and a list of blogs, written for kindle users only and for which you have to pay a subscription. Why would I want to pay to read a blog? There are also some apps for the Kindle, mostly games, but I've seen a calendar program, a couple of calculators and a few note taking programs. Maybe someone who is really good  at text messaging would find those apps useful. I'm all thumbs when I try to write something on it.

I am not sure if every new book I might want will be available on my Kindle any time soon, either. Many old ones are. If a book is in the public domain I am sure I can get it for free. Books more than a year or so old are much cheaper than the current list, as well. All the other e-readers use a format which is available through library websites. You can't borrow an e-book from the library for your kindle, though. I'm told this will change some time this fall. I can hardly wait!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Unfamiliar Fishes

Sarah Vowell

The latest book, from the author of The Wordy Shipmates and occasional contributor to NPR's This American Life, follows the descendants of those pilgrims she described in that other book from New England to Hawaii.

It's a bit of a shock to go from Litchfield County Connecticut to Honolulu in the early 19th century. I lived in Connecticut in the mid 20th century and it was nothing close to Hawaii under King Kamehameha the Great. Never once in my New England experience did we ever have songs or dances in praise of king George's genitalia, for just one example.

Sarah Vowell shows he librul NPR bias when she implies that those Hawaiians, back in 1898 didn't want to be Americans. Everyone in every third world hell hole wants to come here and be an American. It has always been that way. We have to build expensive twenty foot fences and put surveillance cameras all over the place and have a whole I.C.E. department to try to keep the world's poor, tired, huddled masses out of here, and those poi eating Hawaiians didn't want it? This just shows why Congress should defund National Public Radio.

Sure, Hawaii was an independent kingdom with it's own heathen customs and a king or twelve, for about a thousand years before those New England Christians came to set them straight, but you know they would have kept running around half naked if nobody taught them better. They owe us a huge debt of gratitude for teaching them about modesty, Christianity and fast food.

I would not recommend Unfamiliar Fishes to anyone who wants to maintain purity of mind and a patriotic American spirit. You Democrats, Unitarians and other un-American crypto-commies might find it interesting.