Friday, November 21, 2008

Guest Blog - Don't Know Much About the Pilgrims

Next Thursday on November 27th, Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving. For most Americans it is a time to gather with family and friends and to take a moment to express appreciation for all that they have. Usually they will eat a turkey dinner with all of the side dishes that go with it and watch football on television. Although President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November, it was not until 1941 that Congress declared a national holiday to give thanks setting the holiday as the fourth Thursday in November.

The first Thanksgiving was a feast that both Indians/Native Americans and the Puritans shared. Most of us have some vague memories from elementary school of learning about the Pilgrims and of how the Indians brought them food and taught them how to grow crops in their new home. If you would like a refresher course, Kenneth C. Davis has a children’s book out called Don’t Know Much About the Pilgrims. It is a very painless way for children and the adults in their lives to learn more about the Puritans and their early struggles to settle in New England. The book answers questions about what the Pilgrims wore, how they built their houses and where they worshipped. In fact it answers the question of how the Puritans became called the Pilgrims. There are bright and entertaining illustrations by S.D. Schindler to spark the imagination. In fact I learned a lot that I had not known about those first few years in Massachusetts.

I felt really confident about all of the information that the author shared until I came to the end of the book. On page 44 Davis says, “Today about one in every six Americans has a relative who came over on the Mayflower.” In my own family tree I am aware of Swiss Mennonites who came to the United States in about 1720. My husband has relatives that can be traced back to Tennessee in the early 1800s. Some how though I don’t think either of us had an ancestor on the Mayflower and I suspect that there are millions of Americans today whose families came to the shores of North America long after the Pilgrims. I wonder if this is a typo or if Mr. Davis just needs to check his statistics one more time.

In any case, this was a fun read and a good reminder that we have much to be grateful for. We in the US will miss the Blogger this Thanksgiving. I understand that she will be teaching classes in Turkey next Thursday.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Guest Blog - Dead Soul

About twenty-five years ago, I took a university class on adolescent literature. I read a lot of books that I enjoyed but I never liked reading fantasy or science fiction. Two books that we were assigned to read were Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting. My professor kept encouraging me to read more fantasy. She was convinced that I would enjoy it. Needless to say, I never did become “hooked” on fantasy novels for adolescents or adults.

My indifference to fantasy has led me to wonder why I find James D. Doss’ mysteries intriguing and enjoyable. I recently finished Dead Soul and felt even more wrapped in the mystiscism in this Charlie Moon mystery.

In this mystery Aunt Daisy sees a young red headed woman on two separate occasions. Both times she realizes that the woman wants to talk to Charlie about something. Both times she is told by the woman that she can be found in an abandoned mining town in an arroyo. When the local police check it out, the two officers find no one living in the arroyo and they hastily leave the abandoned mining camp without acknowledging to each other that something there does not feel right.

In the meantime Charlie has been asked to look into the unsolved death of a Ute tribesman, Billy Smoke. Billy was acting as a chauffeur for a U.S. Senator. One night while waiting in a parking lot for the senator, he was bludgeoned to death. Shortly after he was killed, the senator approached the car and was attacked and left crippled as a result of his beating.

As always Charlie is able to recognize the truth although it is buried between layers of deception. However, this novel more than any other that I have read by Doss has a haunting quality. In fact Charlie cannot sleep because of dreams of the missing red headed woman. Unfortunately Dead Soul is one of Doss’ earlier books. I have read some of his more recent novels and have not encountered quite the same otherworldly atmosphere in them. I am having feelings of regret that I may not find another novel with practical Charlie haunted by another dead soul. And this from someone who has always said, “I just don’t like fantasy.”

Monday, November 10, 2008

Guest Blog - I Feel Bad About My Neck

During this past week, I watched the movie All the President’s Men again. I am not sure how long it has been since I last watched it. I have seen all or part of it several times over the years. It is the intriguing story of two Washington Post reporters who uncover the fact that it is the president of the United States, Richard Nixon, who is behind the break-in of the Democratic headquarters located in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C and the subsequent cover-up. The two well known reporters are Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

Since that last time that I watched the film, I have read a book by Nora Ephron entitled I Feel Bad About My Neck. The book is a collection of published newspaper articles and essays. Most of the them are entertaining. Some of them from the 1970s feel a little dated and I wondered why they were included in the collection. For the most part though, I thought it was a very amusing book and I could identify with many of her comments about aging...including feeling bad about my neck. I have never lived in New York but have lived in large cities and I especially enjoyed the glimpses into the life of a New Yorker - the life of a person who lives in her own neighborhood or village in the middle of a metropolis.

Frequently in her book, Ephron refers to her ex-husband. Since I have not been in the habit of reading Ephron’s articles in the media, I had to do a little research on the Internet to discover that Ephron’s ex is Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame. In fact she has two sons from that marriage. The marriage ended “acrimoniously” and was the basis for Ephron’s novel Heartburn.

Although I chuckled over the book, I soon found that the attraction I felt for much of her work was generational. My daughters did not share my enjoyment. I have since discovered that there are quite a few books and movies that strike a cord with one generation or the other but not with both. When I read Notebook, I commented that there was too much detail about the young lovers’ relationship. My daughter-in-law said that the story would have been good if they had just left out the part about the old couple. Fortunately there are so many books out there that I will never read even a small portion of them and there is surely something to delight and entertain anyone who takes the time to open a book.

By the way, I did come to the conclusion that the movie All the President’s Men is kinder to Woodward than to Bernstein. I wonder if their personalities were accurately portrayed.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Guest Blog - Silks

The latest novel by Dick Francis and his son Felix is called Silks. Geoffrey Mason, the protagonist of the story, is a barrister in successful chambers in London. He hopes that one day he will ‘take silk’ and become a Queen’s Counsel. In his free time he rides in horse races as an amateur jump jockey wearing jockey silks.

The story begins in November of 2008 as Mason is defending Julian Trent who is accused of beating a man and his family with a baseball bat. Although he is convicted, he is soon out of prison. The prosecution’s attorney is found to have been involved in jury tampering and a mistrial is called. None of the previous witnesses are willing to testify against Trent in a second trial. And before he knows it, Mason is confronted by Trent swinging his baseball bat.

When top jockey Scot Barlow is killed by a pitch fork belonging to another jockey Steve Mitchell, Mason starts getting mysterious telephone calls telling him to be a ‘good little lawyer’ and take the case and ensure that Mitchell is convicted.

The story revolves around Mason’s struggle to fight for justice against a back drop of violence and intimidation. Mason soon finds that not only is he being threatened but his father and a new love interest are also in danger.

I’ve been a Dick Francis fan for years and owe all of my knowledge of racing and particularly jump racing to reading his mysteries. I picked up the book ready to be entertained but I was really puzzled by the dating in this new novel. The book was released last spring but the story begins in November 2008 and ends in May 2009. Why was the story placed in the future? Not until the final chapter does the reader discover that the solution to the mystery centers on a historical event that we are all familiar with; therefore, the manipulation of time in the novel. The story had to take place in the future.

Francis father and son did not disappoint me. I liked the main character and although I soon realized that one piece of information was key to the solution, I still was surprised by the ending. I hope that there will be another Dick and Felix Francis again next spring.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Guest Blog - In a Dark, Dark Room

Now that Halloween is over, is it too late to share with you our family’s favorite scary children’s story book?

When my youngest daughter was about 7, she loved to read the stories again and again or have someone read them to her. In a Dark, Dark Room is actually An I Can Read Book, but children at that age still love to snuggle up and have a parent read.

The story we loved best was The Green Ribbon. It is the love story of Jenny who always wore a green ribbon around her neck and Alfred. They fall in love and eventually marry but Jenny frequently reminds Alfred that he cannot take the ribbon off her neck. When they grow old and Jenny is dying, she finally gives her consent to Alfred to remove the ribbon. I won’t spoil the ending for any of you who cannot guess what happens.

My daughter is now in her mid twenties and still likes to watch scary movies at any time of the year and enjoys the chill of visiting a good haunted house in October. If you have a little ghoul at your house, they might enjoy this collection of stories retold by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Dirk Zimmer who died this year on October 3rd.

By the way, I have never graduated from the I Can Read level of scary stories. I like a good cozy mystery rather than something that keeps me awake at night.