Monday, August 25, 2014

What's on Your Nightstand? Last of the Summer Edition



The Best of August

Amy Belding Brown's new novel, Flight of the Sparrow, features sublime prose and a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat! A retelling of the story of Mary Rowlandson whose story of her time in the captivity of native Americans was sensationalized, this book has it all--great characters, a compelling story, vivid emotion and real life confusion of what faith and freedom really mean. This one is truly not to be missed. Flight of the Sparrow, by Amy Belding Brown. My review of her earlier novel, Mr. Emerson's Wife, is here.







The Rest of August's Reading



What's not to love about a book in which a book set in the 12th Century becomes a ghostwritten best-seller? Life in contemporary Paris and its suburbs has never been so compelling a read! Throw in a Kenyan Crocodile farm, a new shot at love and.....well too many details would spoil the fun of reading it!! The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol.








The word "iconic" is woefully overused today. But it is the only word to describe the pink suit and pillbox hat that Jackie Kennedy wore on that fateful day in Dallas in November of 1963. This is the story of that dress--the fictionalized story--of how it came to be. In the final days of a world in which people "knew their place" based on their socio-economic level, the seamstress who works on the ensemble, a Chanel original copied legally so that Mrs. Kennedy can be said to be wearing a suit by an American Designer, comes to terms with who she is and where she belongs. The Pink Suite by Nicole Kelby






If you grew up in the late 60s and early 70s likely you remember Fannie Flagg trading wise cracks with Gene Rayburn, Brett Summers and Charles Nelson Riley on the The Match Game. Well, today, she's the author of a great slew of novels. The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion tells the story of the SPARS--women who ferried planes to US Army Air Corps bases during World War II. It's also the story of identity and what it means to be "me" and "us." This little gem is nteresting, fun and well worth your time in every way. And, please, somebody play me the "Aw Jeese, You Bet Polka." The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg.



Odd book that isn't really about a Buddhist nun like it claims to be. My favorite character was the cat. A little sprinkling of sci-fi and a dump of hard science that I couldn't begin to fathom, but that didn't last long. A few "ick" moments (skip the intro if you want to miss the biggest one). Overall, the story was interesting though. Could have done without the mandatory PC-anti war screed, but it was a fleeting second in the story. A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki





This year, in case you missed it, is the Centenary of the First World War. This book, a sweet story of a young couple separated by that war, show a different side of the war--that of the common folks, those outside the realm of Downton Abbey. Morale among the troops is so low it cannot be mentioned in letters home. Food is so awful that a group of soldiers lives for the young wife's lettters detailing the meals she imagines cooking for her new husband.The beauty of the wife's cooking, contrasts with the ugliness of the war. The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear.





I loved Bernadette!!! The wife of a powerful Microsoft executive with one talented daughter, Bernadette is the Grumpy Cat of her daughter's school drop-off line. When Bernadette's life careens a bit off the streets of Seattle, things get very interesting. There isn't a boring moment in this one! Where'd You Go, Bernadette?






I enjoy Stephanie, Joe, Ranger, Lula, Connie, Bob the dog and Rex the hamster and totally love Grandma Mazur, but this time.........hmmmm...even my favorite "other" character, Randy Briggs, just didn't do it for me. Granted in real time Joe and Stephanie would be about 50, its more than that. This one seemed to be coasting.  No Joyce Barnhardt? (She was merely mentioned), almost no Vinnie. Just "blah." It's time for Stephanie and Joe to settle down, time for Ranger to disappear under cover, time for Grandma's own viewing at the funeral home. These folks are worn out. Top Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich.








Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Special needs in the Royal Family



The descendants of Queen Victoria have numbered a few with special needs. The conditions range from the best know--hemophilia, to Down's Syndrome, Intellectual Development Disorders, to deafness and other conditions.

The "Grandmother of Europe" left a legacy unlike that of any other monarch--Hemophilia--the disease that is fully manageable today that keeps blog from clotting. Alexei, the last Tsaravitch of Russia, is the best known of these.


 Note: unless otherwise noted, all images are in the public domain.
Hemophilia


Victoria's second daughter, Alice, was a carrier of hemophilia.


Her son, Prince Friedrich of Hesse was a hemophiliac who died after falling from a window as a toddler. This family would suffer more tragedy, losing Alice and her daughter, Marie, within days of each other from diptheria.














public domain
Alexei Nikolaevich was assassinated with his family at Yekaterinburg on July 17, 1918. Alexei was the grandson of Queen Victoria's daughter Alice.

















Alice's grandson, Prince Heinrich of Prussia (also the nephew of Kaiser Wilhelm), died after a fall when he was just four years old thanks to his hemophilia.












Heinrich's big brother, Prince Waldemar of Prussia, lived into his 50s but died at the end of World War II for want of a transfusion. Like Leopold of Battenberg, he was shown in uniform during World War I.










Victoria's youngest son, Prince Leopold, was the first of the royal hemophiliacs. He lived long enough to marry and father two children--one of whom was born after his death. His daughter, Princess Alice of Albany, passed the hemophilia gene on to son, Rupert, and possibly to her son Maurice who died in infancy.




Prince Rupert of Teck was a grandson of the first hemophiliac, Victoria's youngest son, Prince Leopold. He apparently was able to attend Eton and went with his parents, the Earl and Countess of Athlone (formerly Princess Alice of Albany and Prince Alexander of Teck) to South Africa. He bled to death after an automobile accident. (His father was Queen Mary's brother.)













Princess Beatrice (Princess Henry of Battenberg after her marriage) was Victoria's youngest child and the one she kept at home. Her children grew up in Victoria's household, as the family moved with the Queen in her seasonal migration from Osborne on the Isle of Wight, to Windsor, to Balmoral, etc.




Beatrice's son, Prince Leopold of Battenberg (after World War I he was known as Lord Leopold Mountbatten) as a hemophiliac. Leopold was shown in uniform during World War I but was a hemophiliac. He died during an operation in his early 20s.




 Alfonso, Prince of Asturias, was heir to his father King Alfonso the XIII of Spain and was a grandson of Victoria's youngest daughter, Beatrice.(His parents famously survived an assassination attempt on their wedding day.)  He fared better than most hemophiliacs of his time, living to age 31. He, too, died from a car accident.





Alfonso's younger brother, Gonzalo, was also a hemophiliac. Gonzalo lived to his late 20s. He died from internal bleeding following a car accident. He and Alfonso were put into special padded suits to protect them when they played outside.











Deafness



Prince Albert Victor, son of King Edward VII, may have been deaf like his mother Queen Alexandra, but functioned well enough to deal with the Army.











 
Princess Alice of Battenberg, seen here with her son Prince Philip, was the name-sake granddaughter of Victoria's daughter Alice, thru her daughter Victoria of Hesse. She was congenitally deaf, but learned to speak and to lip read in several languages.











Princess Beatrice's grandson, Prince Jaime of Spain, was deaf following mastoiditis and surgery. This also made his speech difficult to understand.









Down's Syndrome and Intellectual Development Disorders


King George V and Queen Mary's youngest child, Prince John, is best know as an epileptic and as the subject of the television show "The Lost Prince." He had some form of intellectual development, though given the times he lived in not much could have been done to aid him. (It is important to remember that the "Lost Prince" is merely "based" on his life--there is no evidence, for example, that John ever mastered playing the coronet as was show in the program, though there is a good deal of evidence that he did enjoy gardening like his two eldest brothers, Edward VIII and George VI did.


Lady Tatiana Mountbatten was a great-great granddaughter of Queen Victoria and a first cousin to Prince Philip. She was intellectually disabled and lived for many years in an institution, but was visited by her brother and her  brother's children throughout her life. As a child she participated in normal family activities. Her brother, David (in the sailor suit) was best man to Prince Philip in that royal wedding.



[Many readers will now search for the two Bowes-Lyon cousin's of Queen Elizabeth who were famously institutionalized and written out of Burke's Peerage. They are not descendants of Queen Victoria and so are not profiled here.]









The German decscendants of Queen Victoria include the only known royal with Down Syndrome. Princess Alexandrine of Prussia, a granddaughter of Kaiser Wilhelm, lived at home and was frequently photographed. She died in 1980.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Wanted: A few replacement (minor) Royals

Copyright information
Copyright information
Do you recognize these faces? If you don't that's ok. Most people would not recognize them, but in the United Kingdom (aka England) they play an important and often unrecognized role. They are "minor royals." The gentleman in black tie and glasses is H.R.H. the Prince Richard Duke of Gloucester and his Danish wife Birgitte. The gentleman in the the business suit with the reseeding hairline is H.R.H. the Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and with him is his sister H.R.H. the Princess Alexandra of Kent (by marriage she tacks on "Lady Ogilvy" to that already long title).  The two Dukes and the Princess, like Queen Elizabeth, are grandchildren of King George V and Queen Mary through their younger surviving sons Prince Henry (Gloucester) and Prince George (Duke of Kent). Although a good bit younger than Her Majesty (Edward was born in the Abdication year and was named for the uncrowned king--Edward VIII; Alexandra in 1937 and Richard in 1944).

copyright information
 So why should you care? Well, they do the "ordinary soldiering" of the Monarchy. They open new school buildings, visit with Old Age Pensioners in nursing homes, buck up the troops, represent the Queen in nearly forgotten outposts of the former Empire. When the Marquee Royals (The Queen, Philip, their children, William and Harry) gather around the card table at Sandringham to apportion new charities, Eddie, Alex and Richard get what no one else wants but that still needs a Royal patron. Edward, having been an Army officer like Harry until Northern Ireland got in the way, goes off to see the troops, takes the Salute at military parades and lays wreaths when necessary and does it all in a Uniform he EARNED. This matters. No one snickers when he does this, unlike when the Queen's son, the "other" Prince Edward shows up at Trooping the Colour in his hotel doorman-ish London Scottish Regiment's honorary colonel uniform. (He's the one who famously quit the Royal Marines.)

Photo: Prince Richard, now Duke of Gloucester, front left in front of his Grandmother, Queen Mary. Princess Alexandra and Prince Edward, Duke of Kent are in the back row far left with Princess Margaret in front. Christmas at Sandringham, 1951 just before King George VI's death.  from http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-21EantpR11E/U-uUQ-VeKkI/AAAAAAAABXY/J3hBBeS0q_M/s1600/lastxmas.jpg


Copyright Ponopresse Anthony Cricknay
H.R.H. the Princess Alexandra of Kent has always been the glamorous one. She took over that role when the late Princess Margaret married in 1960. Her late husband was "an ordinary businessman," at least as "ordinary" as the younger son of an Earl and educated at Eton can be. Today, with the estrangement of her older brother's wife, she often fills in and goes along with Edward to events such as Memorial Services and things like that. It says a lot that the Queen recognized Alexandra's status as a "Princess of the Blood" by giving her precedence the social and diplomatic pecking order ahead of Camilla--the wife of the heir to the throne.




Copyright Getty Images
H.R.H. the Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, had to give up a thriving practice as an architect (he's published books on the subject), when his older brother, the "other" Prince William (Prince William of Gloucester as he was known) died in a plane crash in the early 70s. But, as a Grandson of Queen Mary, duty was in his blood and he has been cutting ceremonial ribbons, declaring Stock Shows and Fetes open and the rest of it ever since. Thankfully he still goes by tube and motorcycle when not on duty.And, like Edward, he is a neighbor of William and Harry (yes Harry has his own place these days) at Kensington Palace).

As all of these folks are now certified Old Age Pensioners, the question looms large: Who will replace them when Charles and then William ascends the throne? As we saw in the Diamond Jubilee, Charles is for a very streamlined Royal Family and not the yards and yards of distant cousins featured on the balcony after the Trooping of the Colour each summer. But is this realistic? Can Posh Spice (Mrs. Becks) or other celebrities take this over? Is this really even "relevent" any more. You bet your charitable contribution it is! A royal on the letterhead as "patron" makes raising money for charities, schools and general good causes much easier. Bono and Sting and the footballers and the movie stars can only do so much. There's nothing like those three little letters--H.R.H. to bring in the pounds and pence!

Who is out of the running?

Well,  let's start with those who are out of the running. In times past (i.e. Victoria's day) the title H.R.H. continued down the (male) line a while. Today there are term limits. Not past the soveriegn's grandchildren of the male line. While it can be overlooked, it is helpful if the said H.R.H. is still in the line of succession (that's a euphemism for not having married a Catholic--though that's being fixed I believe since its terribly un-pc to knock someone out of the running just for marrying someone with an older religon).

copyright Desmond O'Niell Features
So, that knocks out the three children of the Duke of Gloucester and their many exotically named Grandchildren. Though Alexander, Earl of Ulster and in time, his son, Xan (yes, Xan! Prounounced 'ZAN'), the very un-pc titled Baron Culloden, will each in turn become Duke of Gloucester, they will not inherit the title of H.R.H.as they are not Princes of the Blood. They will be garden-variety, Downton Abbey type toffs. The sort who go to Eton and party with Harry. That sort. Only they don't--well Alexander DID go to Eton and Sandhurst, but he's a consultant now--pretty ho-hum like his father. Low profile. His wife is a pediatrician. Their daughter Cosima is more likely to go to a fashionable University than a fashionable debutante event.
Photo (left) Earl and Countess of Ulster

Copyright Sam Greenhill



Photos: Edward (yes another Edward) Baron Downpatrick, Grandson of H.R.H. the Duke of Kent is in the tartan trews in the Bullingdon Club photo on the right. He's also in the photo below with his sisters, Lady Marina and  Lady Amelia Windsor.





Copyright: Tatler.co.uk




Copyright Getty images
  


 Photo (right) Prince Edward Edward, Duke of Kent with daughter, Lady Helen Taylor





Also knocked out of the running are  the children and grandchildren of the Duke of Kent. His sons married Catholics and none of the Duke's offspring are H.R.H.s. His heir, George, Earl of St. Andrews, so un-Royal that he won a King's Scholarship at Eton, managed to begat a son who shares membership in the notorious Bullingdon Club at Oxford [think richest, most obnoxious frat on campus] which boasts members such as Diana's nephew and Prime Minister David Cameron among many others. Lord Downpatrick (as this "Eddie" is known) and his sisters only came to light recently with an appearance in the society magazine Tatler. Their Aunt, Lady Helen Taylor, is the former "Ambassador" for Armani. Her children are also not H.R.H. but ARE C.of E. (Protestant).


The potential replacement (minor) royals:

So, who are the up-and-coming "Minor Royals?" There are four of them--all the "other" grandchildren of the Queen and Prince Philip--the children of their two younger sons. Not being Royal (i.e. not of the male line) Princess Anne's successful, apparently normal and well-adjusted, children are free to make money off their sponsorships and patronages so they don't count.  I wrote about all of them a few years ago HERE, but its time for a different look at them--a job interview, if you will.

copyright Getty Images
Lady Louise Windsor, daughter of the Queen's youngest son Prince Edward, (the "other" Prince Edward--the one closest to the throne) Earl of Wessex. She was one of the bridesmaids at William and Kate's wedding. She is of boarding school age now, but it remains to be seen if her parents will select Gordonstoun for her, like Princess Anne did for her children, or a more traditional school like her female royal cousins Beatrice and Eugenie each attended. Her father will become Duke of Edinburgh when Prince Philip dies, so she may then be given her "real" status as Princess Louise of Edinburgh. Her parents chose to have their children take the style and tile due to the children of an "ordinary" Earl (like Diana's father and brother or Downton Abbey's Lord Grantham--that kind of "ordinary").  Though much younger than William and Harry (a similar age group the Queen and the Duke of Gloucester) she could grow up to be a stunning young "helper" for her Uncle and Cousin when they each take the throne in turn. Could she grow up to be the first female royal since her Grandmother to serve in the military? That would add luster to the family and would give her credibility in taking over for Old Cousin Eddie Kent. Or perhaps she'll follow her cousins (except Harry) to a trendy university and then have a typical upper-class career in say, movie production or nightclub owning, and marry well at about age 30 to someone she's lived with for years. Perhaps, just perhaps though, she could have inherited the "Duty" gene like Prince Richard and be willing to devote her life to showing the Flag and declaring new primary schools "open" and such. Remains to be seen--she's just coming up to her eleventh birthday.
 
copyright Getty images
Louise's little brother, James (Viscount Severn) is 30 years younger than Queen Elizabeth's oldest grandchild, Peter Phillips, and is an unknown quantity. Even his balcony appearances aren't regular. He did make binoculars with his fingers one year at the balcony photo op for Trooping the Colour, though. Could be a blot on his copybook. His main event is the annual Royal Windsor Horse Show which is more or less held in his back garden.I have not read where he goes to school, but a likely guess would be the same as his big sister--the coed St. George's Windsor Castle, a day school located at his Granny's favorite "home." He has a good seat on a pony--very essential for a male minor royal, so perhaps at some later date he will become an honorary Colonel of one of the Household Regiments and ride behind Uncle Charles or Cousin William at the Sovereign's Birthday Parade (aka Trooping the Colour) and make visits to members of his Regiment in Afghanistan or wherever they are stationed by then. Like his sister, James will experience a title change upon the death of his grandfather Prince Philip, but it remains to be seen if he will be H.R.H. Prince James of Edinburgh or if he will simply, again, be known by his father's (lesser) courtesy title Earl of ________.
 
Copyright Getty Images
It remains to be seen where James will really go to school--preschool IS crucial these days, but its the secondary school that really "makes" a man. Since his father's old prep school (that's a private elementary school in England) has closed, perhaps he will stay on at St. George's. Day Schools have risen in popularity along with Mummy blogs, cupcake decorating parties and, so unpleasant to have to say, tuition increases. But, Charles' old prep (to which he did NOT send HIS sons) is hugely popular again, so perhaps with the endorsement of the Tatler ringing in James' upwardly mobile Mummy's ears, he could get packed off to Cheam (now coed). He will be seven in December, so next Winter could find him shuttling off to boarding school, cricket boots and tuck box at hand. But will it be Eton like the sons of Prince Charles and the Dukes of Kent (well his elder son went to Eton) and Gloucester? Or Gordonstoun like Papa and Aunt Anne's children? With his father taking on so many of Prince Philip's charities and the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme, Gordonstoun may be the eventual choice. An added plus is that  (at least at age 7) James looks a good bit like Uncle Charles, which doesn't hurt, either. Overall he has excellent potential to replace the Duke of Kent--or at least fill the gap until Prince George is of age.

http://www.express.co.uk/news/royal/370781/Princesses-Beatrice-and-Eugenie-to-go-on-first-overseas-engagement
H.R.H. the Princess Beatrice of York and H.R.H. the  Princess Eugenie of York are the daughters of the Queen's second son, Prince Andrew, Duke of York. Were that all they'd no doubt be wearing coat dresses and sensible hats and opening things right and left. But let us remember that their mother is the notorious Sarah Ferguson, Prince Andrew's adoring ex-wife once known to the world as "Fergie" (before the singer) and "The Duchess of Pork," who before she made a career of praising Her Majesty to the skies and crying over Di and proclaiming Andrew her "bestest" friend and "her boy" on American talk shows, was famously known for her big mouth, brash ways, and love of having her financial people suck her toes in public. Yes, THAT Fergie. Both have done a limited amount of the "Royal Round"--including a joint venture to Germany in support of British Trade (well, their Papa IS the Queen's favorite child). And, aside from bad taste in hats (that could be dealt with), both seem capable of standing on the balcony and doing the required pointing and waving and both have shown they can sit on a raised platform before an audience and not let their knickers (or lack-there-of ) show.

copyright express.co.uk
Sadly their royal "jobs" are consistently overshadowed by their bar-hopping on two continents with their mother and their vacation jaunts to private islands. Then there are the boyfriends. Bea seems to be about of age (upper class folk take years to grow up these days) to finally marry her live-in boyfriend of, (has she had any other boyfriends?) years--Dave Clark (not the 60s singer). Eugenie, too, has a very steady chap named Jack Brooksbank, that she probably lives with as well. Both really DO need to marry soon or they won't likely be able to have it at St. George's Chapel at Windsor (attached to James and Louise's school) as Uncle Charles probably won't pick up the tab like Granny will. Of course they could simply sell the photos to pay for it like cousin Peter did. The weddings will certainly boost their worldwide popularity ratings, if not their domestic ratings. Best for the Royal Family to capitalize on that while they are a "hot" commodity. Plus William's children will need more "safe" children to have over for play dates.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/thematthewslack/


Beatrice has tried "work," in a financial firm, but having a degree in the History of Ideas put her at a disadvantage to those people who have attended say, the London School of Economics or Harvard Business School. Plus it was difficult to work in her long nights of bar-hopping with Mom and vacations with Dave. It was just announced she's doing yet another "work experience" (i.e. volunteer) stint learning the ropes in television production or something like that. So, becoming a full-time minor royal really could improve her C.V. ['resume' to Americans].  Still, "History of Ideas" could perhaps have run her thru the major science ideas of human history so she could take on that sort of thing so Harry doesn't have to be tutored in the difference between Ortho- and Osteo- and bytes and kilowatts in order to avoid the dreaded "How did you come--by car or train?" sort of chit-chat at charity dinners and receptions for the science-minded. And she does seem to be terribly sweet to oldies -always a plus when the nursing home visits rota gets doled out. Having "come out" as dyslexic was a wise move--made her seem almost grown up and gave her her first "cause."

Copyright dailymail.co.uk

Princess Eugenie attended Kate's (and Princess Anne's ex Mark Phillip's) old school, Marlbourough, followed by the party school New Castle University and made headlines by....wait for it....living in a dormitory. Yes, you read that right. (More recently she has made headlines as a friend of Harry's sprite-like ex-girlfriend, Cressida Bonas.) She has a degree in art history and literature. That's good--that frees Harry from having to read something other than girlie magazines and tedious summaries of his Army training manuals the equerries prepare for him. She can take on the "high brow" stuff. And, God knows what a "charity benefits auctions manager's" long-term career outlook is anyway. That's what her Wilipedia entry claims she does as "work." Plus, like Beatrice, she has a personal cause--scoliosis--based on her surgically corrected childhood disability.  You could look on this as "royal street cred," if you will. A good candidate for minor royal duties if ever there was one.

Copyright Getty Images
What remains to be seen is whether or not Prince Charles, when reigning as he claims he will be, as King George VII, will give his nieces and nephew the nod and have them fill the gaps left by the old age or death of his mother's cousins. To my mind the balcony looked pretty empty at the Diamond Jubilee. We'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

My newest blog: The Local Reaer--Fiction and Memoirs Where YOU Live






My newest blog went live yesterday--The Local Reader--Fiction and Memoirs Where YOU Live. This one is simply another attempt by my librarian self (M.L.S. Indiana 1989) to make another access point to popular reading by cataloging books by their geographical setting. It is an ongoing project. I hope especially to populate it with "gems": "sleepers," great self-published books, small press books and the like, but all books are welcome except porno and erotica. If you'd like to suggest books I'd love to hear from you--you can leave a comment here or at the LOCAL READER. Just be sure to give me the state! Right now I am not doing any picture books or young children's books, but those suitable for any age even though classified as "chapter books" can be included. Mostly I'm looking at normal "grown up" fiction, though memoirs and occasional non-fiction are fine (see the blog for examples of the type non-fiction I've included).

You may not be aware, but I write the following blogs, all of which are merely catalogs of information on the stated topic--no real commentary by me:

Hopewell's Perfect Cabinet of Oddities [the blog you are currently reading; formerly Hopewell Takes on Life!]

Two versions of essentially the same blog (I can't find a format I really like for this one) which will have updates soon (not sure which version I'll put them on though):

21st Century Charlotte Mason Education
21st Century Charlotte aka Thoroughly Modern Mason

A Lifelong Reader in Ambleside


A Quiver Full of Information

Downton My Way -- my tumblr blog on Downton Abbey, Royals, Jeremy Irons and other stuff--this is just for fun!

I am a HUGE fan of Pinterest for what is it but a visual catalog of "stuff"! Perfect! You can find me there where I have two huge boards supporting my novel in progress as well as my obsession with scrapbooking (though I've done almost nothing in recent years, I still collect examples by the thousands), photos of the Royals, tons of recipes, book and library humor and other "stuff."

I also "officially" have a presence on Instagram and Twitter but am not a big user of either service.


Monday, July 21, 2014

What's on Your Nightstand: Mid-Summer Edition








The Best of July


Is there a reader alive (or dead!) who hasn't spent at least a few minutes daydreaming about owning a great little bookshop? A.J. Fikry's Island Books is a quirky little shop populated with great, quirky book reviews, a quirky staff and a fascinating story. Looking like "a depressed, malnourished superhero," A.J. believes you can know everything you need to know about a person based on how the answer the questions "What is your favorite book?" A fun little book that will make you stop and think and also add other books to your to-read list. The Storied Life of A.J. Firkry by Gabrielle Zevin.




I know! I know! A book about sewage and other icky things? But wait! It's so well worth it! This is a fascinating story of science, research and humanity. Now, if I can rave about a book that discusses SCIENCE you can surely read it and enjoy it, too! I was drawn to this story due to my love of Anne Perry's William Monk books, but I stayed because it was just so fascinating. It reads like a novel, not like a science book (oh the relief!) so just try it! The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.







Author Lily King has put together a good read based on the lives of three famed anthropologists.I thoroughly enjoyed this well-researched, well-told tale set in the South Pacific in the 1930s. The details rang true and no one was give ridiculously modern PC views--a huge plus in historical fiction these days. Well-told though the story is, what stuck with me most was the description of one man's "member" as "flushed purple...." That has to go down in the annals of writing as one of the most vivid descriptions of that oft-discussed organ ever! I look forward to more from this author. Euphoria by Lily King.




I'm not a big fan of so-called "Young Adult" literature. I can't get into vampires! I found this one while watching the trailers before the movie Fault in Our Stars and since it featured a teenage cellist, I was all for it. The problem I had with this book was simply the Y.A. genre label. This, like sexy "teen" clothing and other things meant originally for the 16--19 year old age bracket, makes it attractive to 11--13 year olds today. Are kids that young really ready for topics like abortion, foreplay, religion-bashing, disrespecting authority figures, kids being "queer," Moms who immediately offer birth control and condoms when a teen starts a relationship, a teenage lesbian couple, Mom being "ok" with turning down a very prestigious college for a boyfriend,  a guy dressing in drag and trying to enlist in the military or the boyfriend stealing the covers? In all likelihood NO!  But my other self asks "Would they even notice those lines in the conversation or narrative?" Probably not. I found it MORE interesting that Mia thinks of the cello as a "solitary" instrument and only encounters playing in an ensemble at a competitive music camp! I've come down very hard here because these topics are in here--yes they are all current and "relevant" to teen culture today, but the kids who will WANT to read this are barely into puberty! That's the conservative side of this review. The flip side, the liberal side, says there are kids out there who will be validated by those things being in the story. I would have devoured this book at 14 or 15 for the music story and ignored most of the rest. As an adult I loved that the family had parents who were only ever married to each other, who loved and supported their children, who cared about their friends and their community. THAT is the take-away from this book: The loving caring family who have views that are theirs and for which they make no apologies. That I truly loved. I can't wait to see the movie! If I Stay by Gayle Forman.


The Rest of July's Books


I LOVED Jeremy Irons in the tv series The Borgias, so when I saw this I hoped it would be good and it was! This is a vividly told page turner! The setting, the characters, the gamesmanship--all were exciting. The wily Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander VI, and his family had  fascinating, if ruthless, lives! The notes at the end were very good as well--pointing out what was "legend" and what was documented "history." I will definitely read more by this author. Blood and Beauty: The Borgias : A Novel by Sarah Dunant




I've had Gilead on my to-read list for ages, so when my friend Jeanne started reading it for her book club I decided to read along. Well, I did like it. It is an interesting way of telling the story, but for me it was like being stuck at the dinner table circa 1968 with my great Uncles Paul and David holding forth about their childhood. A bit too "meander-y." I LOVED that there was a cross-generational marriage that was loving and true and adored the man's love for his only son. If you are not a Midwesterner this story will a look at a different culture. When it was all done I was happy I had read it and that I can recommend it. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.





WT???? What editor let this be published with Part 9 still attached?  SPOILER A perfectly reasonable piece of not-too-heavy -handed revisionist  historical fiction ends with reincarnation in the Nile?  Water borne diseases thrive in the Nile, not lunacy!  We'll skip a 1920s maiden teacher voting for Debbs and keeping her job.  Small change. A German Jewish character prescient enough to equate the Armenian genocide with the future fate of Jews (but then doesn't leave Nazi Germany? ??)...that's a stretch. Still, it is one line in the whole book. But the (at a loss what to call it) bizarre rant against all religions (except maybe Buddhism??), war, politicians, etc., sounded just plain absurd. The author sounds like a college freshman at best from this. Oh, and naturally, the "spinster" not only must have an affair with a married man  to set her free! Then.....wait for it!!! She is a librarian..... Oh one helpful tidbit-- unless you are a T.E. Lawrence scholar the hinted-at episode involves same sex rape. At least she didn't recount what supposedly happened in that. In spite of this, she does tell a great story and I will likely read more of her books. I just hope the ending is more mature. Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell.

Check out all of this month's reviews at 5 Minutes for Book's monthly "What's on Your Nightstand."