Friday, April 27, 2012

Give me your poor . . .

Enrique's JourneyEnrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book is a symbol of one one of the things I love about book club. I would never have heard about it without it. And although I usually want to read for escape, getting enough real life in my job and my husband's job, I was compelled to read this book and learn more, to put a face on an illegal immigrant and his plight. If you have any feeling on the matter, if you live in this country that is struggling with how to deal wiith this issue, read this book. Yes, all voters and politicians, including the President, should read this book. It won't give you answers, but it will make you better informed about the situation.
The premise is that Enrique is a young boy who longs for his mother. Enrique lives practically alone in the Honduras; his mother illegally migrated to the U.S. in order to help pay for her children's lives in the Honduras. Enrique is desperate to go to his mother but has no money to make the journey, so like thousands of others he rides trains from his country to ours. Pulitzer prize winner, Sonia Nazario, writes about his journey, along with the facts surrounding it. She even rode the trains in the same manner as the illegal migrants, so that she would be able to truthfully write about the experience.
The entire book is compelling, but one of my favorite stories is of Padre Leo in Nuevo Laredo, who is both hated and adored for his charity work with migrants. He says: "Jesus wasn't killed for doing miracles. It was because he defended the poor and opposed the rulers and the injustice committed by the powerful."
Very interesting.
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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

April in Paris

Paris in the Springtime!

There is something wonderful about Paris -- Texas -- in the springtime. And after last year's drought, it seems like we are all loving our southern spring even more than ever. The flowers are blooming and art abounds.

Yes, art -- which isn't surprising given our city's name. We are a very artistic community, in many forms. We have a number of shops in the downtown area that feature interesting buys, including original paintings, pictures, books, pottery and handcrafted woodwork. The Paris Art Gallery houses the originals of those artists who are members of the Guild. I own a number of their works and am always looking for another one to add to my collection. (For a preview, go to ).

Paris is also host to one of the longest running community theaters in Texas, which has a number of "season" shows a year, as well as Christmas, Children's Theater and Teen's Theater shows. Also new to Paris's artistic world is the Community Choir and "Off the Square" black-box type theater, both sponsored by PCT.
(PCT picture courtesy of Laney Kerstetter of Lane Olivia Photography).

The City of Paris also boasts of the existence of one of the longest running municipal bands, which is featured on Friday night summer concerts; such evenings take you back to days of yesteryear. All of this happens in the downtown area.

So what does this have to do with springtime in Paris? Well, an event was recently held that brought together Paris and the Arts, in the springtime, with a wine tasting tour hosted by merchants of the downtown area.

It grew dark before I could take many pictures, but at the starting location we were given downtown maps, wine bags, and wine glasses, then we were free to mosey, look, taste and buy. It was fun, edifying, and just an all-around great night.

If you missed it this year, you won't want to miss it -- or the gorgeous weather -- next year. Thank you to all who participated and brought us "April in Paris, Wine & Art Fest, sip, savor, shop . . ."

(Pictures by Sydney Young except where noted).

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wilde about this original New York cop!

The Gods of GothamThe Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Excellent gothic historical detective noir. Love this genre, and I think this will be the next big book in it. Faye did a wonderful job of research, setting and character, and her " flash" language is incredible, but made easy for the reader. Also, the audible version was just outstanding, so I have a new fab author and narrator to add to my list. I even enjoyed the video on the author's website and information on her background that shows you why this book feels so period right.
Even the names evoke the characters, in a Dicksonesque way. You know what you are going to get when in New York during the Irish potato famine, you have a small disfigured detective named Timothy Wilde whose brother is named Valentine Wilde, Mercy Underhill is the girl of Timothy's dreams, and Bird Daly is the little girl who has run from the scene of the crime. (And that's just the short list of perfect names). With all of that detail taken care of, the reader can just sit back and enjoy.
Here is an example of what makes Wilde so likeable, even before he starts figuring out how to solve a murder:
"Escorting Mercy down a block, depending on her mood, you might not be there for all the attention she pays you. And I'm not exactly Sunday, so to speak. I've never been a special occasion. I'm all the other days in a work week, and there are plenty of us streaming by without notice. But I could fix that, or I thought I could."
Faye also did a great job of giving the sense of the racial and prejudicial turmoil of the times without being trite or judgmental, and in outlining the true grit of the first police force in New York. If any of this appeals to you, go get your copy today!
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Friday, April 13, 2012

Stephen King steps into history, in a fantastical thriller way

11/22/6311/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Excellent book that remains on the best seller list AND is in the quarterfinals of Audible's best of 2011. I like how Audible does it, because everyone actually gets a period of time to vote. And I think this book proves (again) that King is the master of vernacular! I love history and time travel, because it helps the reader explore the times through the eyes of our times. I'm not into slasher/thrillers so don't typically read King, but I do like his writing so I am glad that he ventured into this area and with this exact topic which is so important to our history. The first part of the book had a little bit of a thriller/slasher element, true to King's genre, but it all tied in. If you don't like that kind of thing you may be tempted to give up on it, but I say push through, it will end soon enough and get to the real story. I am among the many now living who weren't alive when this tragedy happened -- yet I have the images seared into my brain. I wanted to know more and this book helped me with that.
King obviously did his research on this topic and I predict that his thoroughness and execution will keep "11/22/63" on must read lists for a long time. As silly as it sounds, scientists still debate "time travel" and King's exploration of the butterfly theory of time travel was very interesting. I also loved the interwoven love story and the ending.
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Thursday, April 12, 2012

1Q + Q + Q + Q = ?????

1Q841Q84 by Haruki Murakami
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Bookclub read this in January, but I notice that this book is in the quarterfinals for Audible's best of 2011 contest so I am thinking about it again. Unlike 1984, which is a bad good book, this book is a good bad book. Also unlike 1984, it is a fantasy that is brain candy without much point. There is no question that Murakami is an artist (unlike Orwell, who was so passionate about an idea that his terminology survives despite his lack of style). For example, take this description of the heroine's frown:

"Whenever something caused her to frown or grimace, however, her features underwent dramatic changes. The muscles of her face tightened, pulling in several directions at once and emphasizing the lack of symmetry in the overall structure. Deep wrinkles formed in her skin, her eyes suddenly drew inward, her nose and mouth became violently distorted, her jaw twisted to the side, and her lips curled back, exposing Aomame's large white teeth. Instantly, she became a wholly different person, as if a cord had broken, dropping the mask that normally covered her face. The shocking transformation terrified anyone who saw it, so she was careful never to frown in the presence of a stranger. She would contort her face only when she was alone or when she was threatening a man who displeased her."

Now, that is a frown that tells you loads about the heroine, who means business, even though her name means green bean. And while some people have no patience for that kind of description, the rest of us love it, which is why Murakami is a best selling author in Japan.

What fascinates me with this book is the constant Western references -- typical Asian books do not have this, so it is interesting that a Japanese author who was so heavily influenced by the West is such a big seller in Japan. I even think the ending draws largely from a famous children's book. Throughout the book I kept wondering how much of the Western feel was from the translation, verses from the author, so I loved that the audio version includes translator interviews.

And while I am talking about the audio, I must say that the narrators were wonderful.

Frankly, I liked the book. But the US publisher made two HUGE mistakes. First, I hated the graphic love scenes. Was it because I was listening to the book that it felt like erotica? If I had been reading, I would have just thumbed through to get back to the story, except that it eventually became a part of the story. That aspect almost ruined the book for me -- I almost quit -- so I warn you not to read the book if graphic sex scenes bother you in the least. The US publishers should have diluted this, with the author's permission of course. Failing that, a simple warning "sexy fantasy" would do! (Note: I have never complained about it in a book review before, just warn me!).

The second mistake was that this book should have been published in series, instead of all together, just like it was in Japan. The thickness of the book turns off even the most ardent reader and makes it hard to digest the story. Although more costly, I think a series would have been more enjoyable, and more successful.
So, that leaves the "Little People" verses "Big Brother" [1984]. Murakami really could have done something with that brilliant idea. What an imagination to come up with something that truly does contrast so well with the Big Brother idea. Of course, I think current days have more to do with Little People than the true year 1984 did -- with the internet I believe we are in a "Little People" age. But even in 1984 there were little people cults that were controlling, so it still could have worked. But he doesn't really develop the idea, so don't expect it, even though the book occasionally evokes 1984, making you expect some kind of dystopian diatribe. In the end, it's just a big little fantasy that has an enticing heroine and hero, who have a problem that needs solving, in a world of two moons that the little people control.
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Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Importance of Reading -- according to the scientific results!

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our BrainsThe Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas G. Carr
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a very interesting book. It addresses concerns that I have had about what the internet is doing to my brain. Is it harmful to wade in the shallows (the net and it's small bits)? Or is it just fun and escape? I remember having the same concern about video games -- there were a few in my younger years that I was definitely addicted to! But I didn't play them all the time, just like I don't social media all of the time. Still, the thought lingers -- how bad for my brain is all of this? How much is the internet affecting my ability to deep think? Why do I sometimes have a need for a net "hit"?
This book was reassuring to me. Carr explains and demonstrates from scientific studies (hope they were valid ones) that even if you notice you are addicted to the shallows, it doesn't have to define you or encompass you. It is important to force some down time, read a book, get outside, (and I add, listen to music), and your deep thinking will continue to hum with pleasure.

According to Carr and the research he cites, deep thinking makes us smarter, better at what we are doing, and more empathetic. That is not to say that we can't thoroughly enjoy ourselves in the shallows! We must just watch that it doesn't overtake our lives, and our brain.

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