Monday, September 29, 2008

a review of "Nation"

Nation by Terry Pratchett

In a way, the realm given to us by Pratchett in 'Nation' is familiar. It is an alternate vision of the world of the middle of the 19th century, a time of Empires and Kings and sailing ships and pirates in the South Seas. And also, in ways, the story told in 'Nation' is hardly original. Two young people, from very different backgrounds, marooned on a tropical island, must learn how to survive. They must learn how to re-create themselves in this new world, since for both of them the reality that they knew and the future that they foresaw for themselves is gone. But Pratchett puts some unique twists on this world.

Mau is returning from a distant island, the Boy's Island, where he had survived for a month and so, upon his arrival back on his home island, will be declare a man.
A short distance away Ermintrude ,or as she decides to call herself, Daphne, is sailing to join her father, the Governor of the Pelagic Territories, a chain of small islands in the Great Southern Pelagic Ocean. For both of them, life as they knew it will be changed forever by a giant tidal wave that races across the ocean, shipwrecking Daphne's boat and killing all on it but her and slaughtering all the inhabitants of Mau's home, killed as they wait on the beach for his return.
And half a world away, Europe is suffering from a terrible Plague that will require a drastic action by a mysterious group to save the monarchy.

The future is not as they envisioned it...
“She (Daphne) was crying. Mau hadn't understood the words but he understood the tears. You're not sure of the future either. You thought you were, it was so close you could see it in your head, and now you think it's washed away, so you're trying to talk it into coming back.”

But that world is gone and Mau and Daphne, soon joined but a few others survivors, will be challenged to face all sorts of obstacles. He is a boy who is not quite a man, and a boy whose gods, the gods that have shaped his reality, are dead. He must be the Chief, because the people need a leader, ever though as Mau says about himself “Even though I may be an empty thing and in a world of shadows”.
Daphne, although raised by her grandmother to be a very proper young woman of society...which seems to mean she should learn nothing but needlepoint...proves to be a very brave and resourceful young woman. And try to save Mau from those shadows.

This alternate world that Pratchett creates is in many way fascinating and very entertaining. The island is a world of tree climbing octopus and foul mouth parrots, sailfin crocodiles and amusing grandfather birds but danger as well. The characters, both major and minor, are smart and real and grow as the story develops. And Mr. Pratchett is a very good and often amusing writer.

But...yes, there is a but...there is one issue and I found it a rather annoying issue. Mr. Pratchett has an agenda, a message he would like to propose. Science is good...religion is not. Science is true..religion is a false reality that people create from the misunderstood truths of science. One example, and for those that are concerned about such things, a bit of a *spoiler* one point they investigate an ancient cave on the island that challenges some things that they believe. But, to the anger of Mau, some of the islanders want to see that reality differently.
“They believe in anything! This morning I heard one of the new ones talking about 'The Cave the Gods Made'! We made it! Men made the gods too. Gods of cold stone, which we made so that we could hide from the dark in a shell of comfortable lies.”

Ok..I get your point...again and again. But there is something to be said for being subtle in how it is expressed. Every book, to some degree, expresses the author's view of the world, but I don't think that you have to hit the reader over the head with it.

I will give him a point back on the score for not going with the easy “happily ever after” ending. As an old man, who is telling this story to two children on the island, many years later says. ...
” 'it's the kind of ending you get in real life' said the old man, 'and isn't the story about being real?' ”

Well...sort of.

I haven't read anything by Pratchett before, and from what I read, this novel, aimed supposedly at the YA market, is not as humorous as most of his earlier work. I could have done with a bit more humor myself, but overall a well written, entertaining book. Perhaps I will dip a toe in his Discworld books in the future...

Available from Amazon

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ever Dream of Being a Lighthouse Keeper?

Have you ever had a dream of being a lighthouse keeper? A lovely summer day, looking out at the sea, perhaps writing that Great American Novel in between checking the fog horn and polishing the lens. The soothing sounds of gentle waves lulling you to sleep at night...lovely. Well, watch this and think again kids! Holy Moly!!

Friday, September 26, 2008

a review of "Voices: A Reykjavik Thriller"

Voices: A Reykjavik Thriller by Arnaldur Indridason

It is the week before Christmas and we are in the far north, almost guaranteed a snowy, white holiday. But it you looking for a cozy mystery, perhaps you should look elsewhere, because this book would seem to fall distinctly in the category of 'noir', defined in Merriam-Webster as “crime fiction featuring hard-boiled cynical characters and bleak sleazy settings.” Yes, cynical...and yes, bleak...and in “Voices” that is a very enjoyable combination for the reader.

The holidays are approaching, and in the basement of Iceland's very popular Grand Reykjavik Hotel, a body has been found. The victim of the brutal stabbing is the hotel's doorman, discovered half dressed in the suit he was going to wear to play Santa at an employee party. Found with his pants down around his ankles, in a very compromising position, in the nasty, empty little room in which he lived. Called in to investigate is Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson and his team, each with their own very distinct personalities. Erlendur is himself a rather bleak yet compelling character. Divorced for decades, alone, almost a stranger to his two now grown, troubled children, he might seem at first an unlikely sympathetic character. But as with all the folks here, we learn that what we at first see is not all there is to the story.

For example, Erlendur is still haunted by the death of his younger brother when they were both just children, the boy lost forever on a snowy Icelandic moor, while Erlendur was found and saved.
“He was older and was responsible for his sibling. It had always been that way. He had taken care of him. In all their games. When they were home alone. When they were sent off on errands. He had lived up to those expectations. On this occasion he had failed, and perhaps he did not deserve to be saved since his brother had died. He didn't know why he had survived. But he sometimes thought it would have been better if he were the one lying lost on the moor.”

That death and his sense of responsibility for it has colored ever aspect of his life since and is perhaps one reason he find himself at an almost total loss as to how to deal with his own daughter Eva Lind, a drug addict, suffering her own guilt over the death of her prematurely born daughter. But it is also why he is so dedicated to his job.
And besides the murder, there is also woven through the book another little subplot of a young boy who has been very severely beaten, maybe by his father. But again, there is more to this than meets the eye at first.
Yes, there is a lot of angst in beautiful, snowy Iceland this Christmas.

While the story and the setting and the writing itself are spare and a bit bleak, the author's great ability to develop these characters, including even the victim, and a glimpse of Icelandic culture, raises what might otherwise be an ordinary police procedural to another level. The third in a series, along with 'Jar City' and 'Silence of the Grave', 'Voices' is a very fine stand alone mystery. I know that I will be going back and reading the previous two and then will catch up on the latest, 'The Draining Lake'.

Now if I could just get the hang of these Icelandic names.....

Available from Amazon

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pull up a chair..Can I make ye a cuppa tea?

A cozy evening in your favorite chair or curled up in a corner of the couch. A new book by your favorite author. Maybe a cookie...and yes, a lovely hot beverage. One of life's pleasures.

Some would say that the world is divided into tea drinkers and coffee drinkers.
Not sure where that leaves my sister-in-law who drinks neither...
But back to the coffee and tea.
Now at one time I drank both. Coffee was for wake up...tea was for pleasure. Liked them both..but their places in my life were different. Different, but good.
Then I lost my taste for coffee. It involved getting stuck at work for about 20 hours and drinking more coffee than might be considered humanly possible in order to stay alert.
I was alert for about a week.

Now I drink tea. Good tea, not those nasty, tasteless tea bags that are so common here in the U.S. Don't even get me started on that. Loose brewed tea is good, but I am not so much of a tea snob that a decent teabag will not do. I favor Barry's, an Irish brand. You can buy anything on Amazon...
But, of course, some take their tea much, much more seriously.
There is an article in the British newspaper, The Guardian, by one Henrietta Lovell “the founder of Rare Tea Company”.
In the article, she describes her buying trip to Funding, a remote, mountainous region of China.
“It is not the easiest way to buy tea. After a 12-hour flight from London to Hong Kong and a further three-hour hop to Xiamen, the drive to Mr Che's tea garden takes a further eight hours. But I am in search of bai hao yinzhen, the most highly prized type of white tea, and once the preserve of emperors...
At dawn the next day Mr Che and his pluckers set out across the farm to harvest buds. There is a tiny window at the start of spring when the new leaves are mature but still furled in needle-like buds. These "silver tips" are picked, just as they are about to open, by the most experienced pluckers.
...they sift through the buds and remove extraneous leaves or twigs. Then the silver tips are laid to dry in the soft afternoon sun on huge bamboo racks, positioned to catch the best light. As night falls the tea is brought in and carefully dried over wood fires. The fragrance is incredible."

Ok, I was tempted, it all sounds so lovely. I went to the 'Rare' site where this 'silver tip teas' and several other teas are for sale. The prices are in British pounds and my conversion skills not too great, but it did not seems terribly expensive. Well, not compared to caviar..or gold bullion. And I might have bought some except I read this line, at the bottom of the page of instructions for proper tea brewing.
“Milk and sugar? Milk and sugar will not enhance the flavour of any high quality teas. Rare Tea Company only sells the best leaf teas - and they do not need to be masked, sweetened or diluted.”

I would be willing to give my usual milk and sugar the boot for a try. Really I would...I think. Maybe it is just all a bit too precious for me. Maybe my tastes are still a bit too common...but I will stick with my Barry's for now.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

a review of "Blue Genes"

Blue Genes - A Memoir of Loss and Survival by Christopher Lukas

To the world, the Lukas brothers appeared successful and accomplished. Older brother Tony was a Harvard graduate, a NY Times journalist, winner of two Pulitzer Prizes. The author Christopher, or Kit as he is know, is an actor, author, Emmy award winning TV producer, husband and father.
But when Kit received that call one night that his brother had killed himself, while terribly upset, he was hardly surprised. It appeared to be just one more example of a terrible family legacy of mental illness, depression and suicide.

Their mother cut her own throat when they were just boys, they watched their father decline into alcoholism, and their grandmother, their aunt and their uncle all died at their own hands. “Blue Genes” is an attempt by Mr. Lukas to come to some sort of understanding of his family's history and especially to come to terms with his brother's death.

From the times they were boys, Tony appeared to take after their mother. Beautiful and accomplished, financially secure even through the Depression, their mother was haunted by her own demons, often not there for her children, either emotionally or even physically. And like her, Tony appeared always on the edge of his own darkness. In a letter, when they were boys, their grandmother wrote

“Kit is Master Sunshine as usual, easing his way into everyone's heart.”

The author then writes...
“'Master Sunshine!' While Tony was what- 'Master Gloom?' That was the difference people saw between us....If so , Master Sunshine I remained- to the outside viewer. Inside was a different story.”

Because to this day, the family legacy never seems far from the author himself.
“What is remarkable is- despite the killer thoughts- how much Tony accomplished during his life. He was a prodigious writer, an acclaimed journalist. A creative person.
But it was still not enough.
I am sure that I never answered the question of why Tony killed himself to the satisfaction of my interlocutors. It was almost impossible to do so.
There is a parallel question that I have been more successful answering: why I have not killed myself....
For I too have blue genes. I, too, have a voracious wish for “more.” The question then becomes: If Tony was only a latest in a long line of family members who killed themselves, will I be next?....
Still with full confidence, I know that I will never go into a room at the end of the day and kill myself. Too many deaths in my family, too many suicides. I will not follow suit.”

The problem is, we are not really given the evidence in this book to make us totally believe this. The evidence not to fear, even for the fate of the author's daughters. Have they too inherited the family legacy?
What it does make us realize is that often, even the best that medical science can offer for diseases like bi-polar or depression proves not enough. All these family members took advantage, to differing degrees, of state of the art psychotherapy and psychopharmacology and treatments that existed at the time. It was not enough. And I can't feel that he has really given much hope to those that share this depression or know and care for those that suffer these same afflictions.
"If our genes are more good than bad, if out DNA or traumas don't cripple our ability to learn as we get older, if nothing sticks us to the past despairs, we can survive; we can thrive."

And if not?
I hope that the author accomplished what he wanted to in writing this book, in terms of coming to some sort of peace with his brother's death. But as he admits, he remains unable to explain it to us. And I hope that he is right about being lucky enough to have been blessed with the support and knowledge to enable him to escape the fate of so many in his family. The book is subtitled “ A Memoir of Loss and Survival”...unfortunately, there is a great deal about the loss and not enough, except for an attempt in the four page epilogue, to explain the survival and to make his message ultimately hopeful.

Available From Amazon

Tuesday Thinger

A first for me...althought I have lurked for awhile, I decided to jump into the Tuesday Thingers from The Boston Bibliophile today. So here is the question...

Today's Question: Favorite Authors. Who do you have named in your LT account as favorite authors? Why did you choose them? How many people share your choices? Can you share a picture of one of them?

I have four favorites listed on LT. Yes, just four. Willa Cather, Dean Koontz, Flannery O'Connor, J.R.R. Tolkien.
How I picked them....well, think someone said to you "Grab some books from your shelves, what you can hold...may have to last for awhile". These folks have books that I could reread..and reread. "Death Comes for the Archbishop", "My Antonia", Flannery's (we are on a first name my mind) "The Complete Stories", LoTR, The Hobbit...and any of the huge number of books from Koontz. I would be good for a long time reading and rereading those.

How many share my choices? One person shares all four, two people share three...but they all have huge numbers of favorites! So I don't really think that it counts. While I am at it, what is with that?? How can you list 200 favorite authors??

Monday, September 22, 2008

"Besides the autumn poets sing...."

As evening approaches, the first brigade of the pumpkin army is lined up in formation, ready to spearhead the arrival of the autumnal season. Soon, the attack will commence. Submit and surrender, resistance is futile. The seasons will march on and the unprepared will be left out in the cold.

Sadly, it appears that a number of the troops have already been captured and are being help in confinement.

A quiz!!
Autumnal...a lovely adjective for the fall season.
But what are the equivalent words for winter, and summer and spring?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

a pause for a poem by John Masefield

A Wanderer's Song

A wind's in the heart of me, a fire's in my heels,
I am tired of brick and stone and rumbling wagon-wheels;
I hunger for the sea's edge, the limit of the land,
Where the wild old Atlantic is shouting on the sand.

Oh I'll be going, leaving the noises of the street,
To where a lifting foresail-foot is yanking at the sheet;
To a windy, tossing anchorage where yawls and ketches ride,
Oh I'l be going, going, until I meet the tide.

And first I'll hear the sea-wind, the mewing of the gulls,
The clucking, sucking of the sea about the rusty hulls,
The songs at the capstan at the hooker warping out,
And then the heart of me'll know I'm there or thereabout.

Oh I am sick of brick and stone, the heart of me is sick,
For windy green, unquiet sea, the realm of Moby Dick;
And I'll be going, going, from the roaring of the wheels,
For a wind's in the heart of me, a fire's in my heels.

John Masefield

Friday, September 19, 2008

Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day!!

I am off to find my eyepatch and a barrel of rum.
Monkeys optional.

with a nod to Happy Catholic

a review of "Oh, The Humanity"

Oh, The Humanity!: A Gentle Guide to Social Interaction for the Feeble Young Introvert by Jason Roeder

“This may sound silly, but I want you to shake hands with yourself. Yes, I'm serious. Introductions are in order: Meet the new you!”
Yes, it does sound silly, but not really much sillier than the vast majority of self help books out there, does it? And that is what “Oh, the Humanity” is, a humorous send up of all the quick fix books that seem to flood the market these days. If you could just pick the right one for your particular issues, read it very quickly (because you really can't be expected to devote to much effort to this self improvement thing, can you), your life would be a bed of roses.
Mr. Roeder has latched on to just enough truth to make his spin amusing. Speaking of spin, Dale Carnegie must be spinning in his grave.

Part one, “Essential Qualities You Lack” discusses the four traits that you are deficient in that makes you the loser that you are- confidence, humor, curiosity and empathy. Should be easy to fix, right? Roeder informs us that “as you read, you might come up with some other qualities that you think could be helpful in your particular situation. Put these out of you mind. All character traits beyond those discussed in part one are not to be trusted.”
Now, he is a trained professional, with an actual, rare BA in psychology, so he can be trusted.

Part two was my personal favorite. “Conservation for People Who'd Rather be Home Fondling Their Record Collections, Knitting Berets for Pets They May or May Not Actually have, or Just Sit in a Dark Room, Dreaming of an Even Darker Room.”
He discusses things such as small talk, how to handle difficult people and topics, nonverbal communication ...”what exactly is body language? My arrest record suggests I need some clarification” and cross cultural communication or “how to deal with the world's five billion hundred million outsiders”.
Personally, I think maybe they should just all stay outside. That's a lot of people.
That section was also the favorite of my afore mentioned imaginary kitty, Kitty. I told you about Kitty. I told someone. I think.
Enough said. Let's move on. Good Kitty.

It's all topped off with part three- “Making Friends That Last a Lifetime...or Until Things Just Kind of Drift”. Ok, I was just sort of skimming by then, but I am sure it explained a lot of useful stuff....and whatever.
Friends are overrated anyhoo....just love yourself, and then you will always have a friend! Right inside your head...talking to you all the time.

Some amusing stuff and I loved the illustrations by Eric West. You can look at the drawing on page 104 and pretty much sum up all the types of people in the world. Guess which on I am. Go ahead. If you're curious, you can just go to a bookstore and look at it for free, but if you want to spend a little time, having a little giggle, you could buy it I guess.

To quote Mr. Roeder “'Oh, the Humanity' is available pretty much everywhere slender novelty books are sold...” yes, of course, including Amazon.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

a review of "Greetings from Jamaica, Wish You Were Queer"

Greetings From Jamaica, Wish You Were Queer by Mari SanGiovanni

Marie Santora is a fairly happy 30-ish woman. Well happy, except for a few flies that have gotten stuck in her milkshake. Her girlfriend is cheating on her, yet Marie is financially trapped in the condo they uneasily share. No one at work is really interested in talking to her since her brother 'outed' her on the loud speaker system. Her slightly crazy Italian family is practicing, with various degrees of success, a sort of "don't ask, don't tell" policy about her affectional orientation...and her grandmother just died.

Now, don't feel too bad about the grandmother. She hated her grandmother and her grandmother hated her. She hated everyone it seems.

Marie's conversation with her brother Vince on the way from the funeral sort of sums it up.
"I laughed at him. 'It's not going to the same without Gram around to make the family events run less smoothly.'
'You know Marie, I've always been more than a little jealous about how you and Gram used to get along...'
'Yeah, I know. She always hated me best.' "

Well, she hated her enough to leave Marie her entire fortune. With the request that she give none to the rest of the family.
21 millions dollars folks. Someone should hate me like that!

Not surprisingly, being a millionaire changes a few things in her life. Her beautiful, soon to be ex-girlfriend seems to have forgotten the parade of women she had taken up with and is planning their future together. Oh, she is going to be so upset to see that is so not going to happen. Her job is very quickly given the deep six so Marie can start to follow her dream of being a screenwriter...and have a little time to do a wee bit of gentle stalking of the actress that she intends will play the lead in the movie. Off she flies to California to carry out her plan. "H.I.L.S (Homesick-Italian-Lesbian-Stalker)seeks Actress". Oddly enough, that does not go well!

So she shifts her sights for a moment and decides to take her entire family to Jamaica for a vacation and to announce how she will divide the money. You knew she wasn't going to pay any attention to her grandmother's dying request, didn't you?
Off the Santoras set for the islands...and the hilarity ensues. All manner of people turn up, all sorts of events take their turn and we are in the middle of a madcap, fun-fest. A virtual barrel of monkeys-rama. A laugh out loud journey of jocularity.
In case you don't quite get my subtle point, "Greetings From Jamaica, Wish You Were Queer" is a very, very funny book.

I love a funny book. I love characters that have a sense of humor. And these folks are Characters with a capital C, this book is Funny with a capital F.

Now, if Ms. SanGiovanni would just get her act together and finish that highly anticipated second doubt her legion of well deserved fans...and maybe Entertainment waiting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Go east young woman, Go east!

Tall conical towers, painted in the classic red and white stripes, or maybe the daring black and white spiral of the Cape Hatteras light...that was for me the 'classic' lighthouse image. Yes, I will admit that I was a lighthouse snob. Tall and stately, soaring into the sky. But my recent journeys have changed my mind and one lighthouse that I thought at first would be a least favorite turned out to be of my most, The East Point Light, the second oldest beacon in NJ.

In the 1800's, before a disease reeked havoc with the beds, the oyster was king of the Delaware Bay, with almost 500 boats working out of the circuitous Maurice River at one point. The ports of such interesting sounding towns as Bivalve and Shell Pile, where recreational boats now appear to far outnumber working fishing boats, were once thriving communities and alive with the shouts of over 1500 oysterman, the flapping sails of the oyster boats and roads literally paved with the snowy white crushed shells. And further up the river was the growing manufacturing city of Millville, still known today for it's glass manufacturing plants, that used the river for shipping. So safe entry into the Maurice River Cove was an economic necessity.

In 1849, the Congress alloted the sum of $250 for the purchase of some marshy land on the east point of the river's entrance and a couple of thousand dollars more for the building. An 1878 description of the lighthouse by one of the keepers describes it in the following way..

"The light is exhibited from [the] lantern on top of keeper’s dwelling, and is 48 feet above ordinary sea level; it is of the 6th order, fixed white, and is supplied with Franklin lamps. The dwelling is of brick, two stories high, and one-story kitchen adjoining east end, which is also used as oil-room. The first story is divided into two rooms and a hall, with stairway to second story, which is divided in the same way. There is a cellar under whole house, which is wet in very high tides; it contains a cedar water-tank of a capacity of 700 gallons."

Over the years there were 10 keepers at the light until, with the installation of an automated fueling system at the turn of the century, the last keeper was reassigned in 1911. After that, the US Lighthouse Establishment installed an unpaid custodian, who was allowed to live in the house and paid $1 in exchange for maintenance of the property.

But somewhat sadly, progress marches on and with the change in maps and various navigational aids, after the beacon was extinguished for security reasons during WW II, the government decided there was no longer a need for the light. It was left vacant for many years and deeded to the State of NJ in 1956, that wanted the property, not for the light, but for recreational access to the bay. So beyond boarding up the building, no work was done and it continued to deteriorate.

But finally in the 1970's someone came to East Point's rescue with the formation of the Maurice River Historical Society that works, despite a terrible fire early in the work, to restore and maintain the lighthouse to the present. On July 2, 1980, the lighthouse was reactivated by the U.S Coast Guard, a beacon shining once more as a navigational aid on the Delaware Bay.

Unfortunately, East Point is only open to the public on the 3rd Sunday of the month, as work continues on the interior, so I was not able to go inside on this trip. I will have to save that for another day because I read there is a grand view of the bay from the tower.
Also of interest for those that make a trip there is the surrounding Heislerville Wildlife Management area and their seven mile long auto nature trail. It winds along the bay, through the marsh and salt hay meadows and past ponds filled with all sort of birds and critters. Snow geese, pintail and canvasback ducks, the occasional bald eagle, migrating shorebirds...a pond full of snowy egrets. I saw the most beautiful Great Blue Heron but sadly he took off before I could get a photo of that picture is not mine. Next time I will be better prepared and not so afraid of driving off the narrow, raised sand road into the marsh or worrying about what would happen if another car came along in the opposite direction, since the road is only
one car wide in most places. Happily, the only cars I saw were parked at wider spots at several creeks where a number of people were involved in some activity involving nets and lines..I assume crabbing. Hey, I grew up in a city! What do I know?

I do know it was a grand trip to a beautiful lighthouse.

Are you up to the challenge? Are ya?

I have heard your cries of “When, Oh good heavens when, is she going to post about another lovely New Jersey lighthouse? Oh when?”

Now really need to be a little less dramatic. Second, your plea has been answered!

I have been very busy, doing some lighthouse field work over the last two weeks. My bad knee was a little mad at me the day I climbed three of them, for about 500 steps on those metal circular stairs. Countless miles driven, with the ocassional stop for refreshment at a Rita's Water Ice. It was very tough. But it was all for you, my lighthouse fans!

Ok, actually it was just because I like lighthouses. And it was a great excuse to mosey around some really scenic waterfront locations and take some nice photos. From Sandy Hook in the north, with a view of NYC in the background, to the marshes (and greenhead flies) of the Delaware Bay in the south I traveled.

So, which of them should I share with you first...choices, choices...

But first, if you happen to actually like lighthouses and live in the NJ area, let me share with you an upcoming lighthouse extravaganza. On the weekend of October 18th and 19th the New Jersey Lighthouse Society will be holding the 9th Annual New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge . In order to raise lighthouse awareness, especially of NJ lights, all are encouraged to visit one or all.

It is a rain or shine, two-day event held during the 3rd weekend in October when 11 land-based lighthouses are open for visitation and climbing. During this weekend, the public is invited to visit any or all of the sites along the Challenge route. For 2008, we are pleased to introduce the addition of 2 new sites to the Challenge route:
-Barnegat Light Historical Museum displaying Barnegat Light's 1st Order Fresnel Lens.
-Cape May County Museum displaying Cape May's 1st Order Fresnel Lens.

At each site visited, participants of the Challenge receive a complimentary souvenir depicting that particular lighthouse. Collect all 13 and you will receive a complimentary "completion" souvenir at your final stop to commemorate your achievement.
So, for the weekend, all the lighthouses will have extended hours for you to visit and some will be open to climb at night. I understand that about 3000 people took part last year. There is no fee to take part, although I will tell you that a good map and a GPS unit would help with finding a couple of them.

And be sure to bring a camera!

From Drop Box

Monday, September 15, 2008

a review of "Guernica"

Guernica: A Novel by Dave Boling

If you know the history of the Picasso painting shown above and are aware that it was created to depict the German bombing of the Basque city of Guernica, Spain on April 26, 1937, the climatic event that occurs in the middle of this novel will come as no surprise. The rise of the fascists and the Spanish Civil War and the beginning of World War II is always present in the background of this story. People start to disappear, rumors of terrible happenings in other towns are talked about, neighbors begin to turn on neighbors as times become harder and food is almost impossible to find.

But if that all sounds a little break, don't fear. Because while these things are a part of first time novelist Dave Boling's story "Guernica", this is most certainly not a bleak story. No, this is a love story, from start to finish. At times, a funny, moving and uplifting love story, at times heartbreaking. The love of parents and their children, the love of siblings, the love of spouses, the love of friendship...the love of ones people and ones homeland. Ultimately, a hopeful and promising love story.

At the center of the tale is Justo Ansotegui, the oldest of three siblings, whose mother dies shortly after the birth of his youngest brother. When his father, unable to deal with her death, gradually abandons the boys and the farm they live on, young Justo rise to the occasion to care for them all. He grows to be the strongest man in the region, respected by all and, in time, feared by a few. One brother becomes a fisherman, the other a priest and Justo meets and falls in love and marries the beautiful Mariangeles. They have a daughter, Miren, who is renown for her loveliness and kindness and skill at the traditional Basque dances. When she in turns marries the woodworker Miguel and has a daughter, they form the three generations of the Ansotegui family that will face the horrible events of that April day and it's aftermath.

The story is mainly seems through the experiences of the Ansotegui family, but there are brief appearances by a few historical personages as well, including Picasso, the German commander von Richthofen, who planned in support of Franco, what is said to be the first bombing of an urban civilian target in history at Guernica. Bolings writes in an 'author's note' at the end of this advanced edition that he did not want to "tax the reader with elaborations on the complex and volatile politics at work at the time" but rather "establish a general context of the poverty, oppression, instability, and disenfranchisement that common citizens would have felt".
But perhaps that leads to what I think is one small fault with the book. While he certainly succeeded in his desire to a large degree, I must admit that the whole political situation as it was presented and just who was who and who was doing what in the background story was rather confusing at times. Fascists, freedom fighters...rebels, revolutionaries...hard to keep them all straight unless maybe you have a better understanding of the shifting alliances of the Civil War than I had.

Happily, we have the very strong Justo to hang on to as we are dragged through this turbulant epic and benefit from what he discovers about family and home and love.

Justo learned from Miguel that if you lose someone you love, you need to redistribute your feelings rather than surrender them. You give them to whoever is left, and the rest you turn toward something that will keep you moving forward.

Justo, his family and the Basque people moved forward from that savage and atrocious time and we are privileged to accompany them on a small part of the journey.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Anyone want a cookie?

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I was just reading, by way of Happy Catholic, that in honor of it's 100th anniversary, the Hydrox cookie is being re-released. She claims it is the BEST fudge cookie ever. Better than the Oreo. Now that would be pretty darn great in my book. I can see it now...with a glass of cold milk...or maybe a nice cuppa tea.

I just finished up 'Guernica' and after I wipe away a few tears, hope to get the review written and posted this evening. I tell you, I could have used a comforting cookie or two...a very good book.

Perhaps I need to go to the supermarket first....

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Right Here!! Right Now!! The Greatest Novel of All Time!!

This is something interesting and fun about a list. Maybe we like to find our favorite "whatever" and see where it falls. Or maybe we like to SCREAM about something on there that in a just world would never be there.

Well, I happened upon this list in an article in the London Telegraph based on a poll. If you mosy over there to read the article, be sure to check out the comments. I think that they make some good points about missing books that should have been included. In that just world mentioned above.
But, for a moment, please let me call your attention to number 5. Yes, right there between 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'Wuthering Heights'. I can't bring myself to say the title...but there is no way that book should be on a list of the 50 Greatest Novels of All Time!

Agree...disagree? Any opinions? Any obvious missing ones, horrible inclusions?


1. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
2. Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S Lewis
4. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
5. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
6. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
7. Animal Farm - George Orwell
8. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - JK Rowling
10. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
11. The Time Travellers Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
12. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
13. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kasey
14. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
15. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
16. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
17. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
18. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
19. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
20. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
21. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
22. Sons and Lovers - DH Lawrence
23. Anna Kareninia - Leo Tolstoy
24. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
25. Emma - Jane Austen
26. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
27. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
28. My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
29. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
30. A Passage to India - E.M Forster
31. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
32. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
33. Atonement - Ian McEwan
34. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
35. In Search of Lost Time - Marcel Proust
36. Middlemarch - George Eliot
37. White Teeth - Zadie Smith
38. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
39. It - Stephen King
40. Little Women - Louisa M. Alcott
41. Vanity Fair - William Thackeray
42. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
43. The Horse Whisperer - Nicholas Evans
44. Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
45. Moby Dick - Herman Melville
46. Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
47. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
48. Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twin
49. Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome
50. The Island - Victoria Hislop

I must agree that 'To Kill a Mockingbird' should be way up there. Number one...maybe.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

a review of "The Keepsake"

The Keepsake: A Novelby Tess Gerritsen

When a previously unknown mummy is discovered in the storage basement of the small, private Crispin Museum there is great excitement all around the city of Boston. People love mummies, and the press is out in force as “Madam X” is transported to the hospital to be checked out by a cat scan. One of our favorite medical examiners, Dr. Maura Isles, dubbed by the press “Queen of the Dead”, is present at the invitation of the museum curator. But things do not go as expected, because mummies do not have modern dental work or bullets in their legs. Or a very personal message for the Crispin's Egyptology expert Josephine Pulcillo, who it seems, has her own deadly secrets.

Into the investigation steps the team of Detectives Jane Rizzoli and Barry Frost, familiar from Gerritsen's previous six books in the series, and before long there are other grisly discoveries for the duo to delve into. There is very soon evidence that they have a serial killer on their hands and indications that Dr. Pulcillo is very intimately tied into this macabre mystery.

Now I must confess that I was a little concerned at the beginning of the book that, between a mummy, the doddering museum director and secret hiding places in dusty basements, I might have stumbled into a game of Clue with Professor Plum in the Conservatory with a candlestick. But fear not, because very quickly things took on Gerritsen's customary fast paced, suspense filled and yes, quite creepy pace. Creepy is a very entertaining thing in her skillful hands.

One sign of good suspense story is that we, the reader, are kept on our toes. Just when we think we have it figure out, the rug is pulled out and we are happily dragged around another series of twists and turns. And be assured there are ample twists and turn in this latest appearance of the excellent characters of Isles and Rizzoli to keep us on the edge of our seats. "The Keepsake" is a taut, action packed, suspense story that will not disappoint Tess Gerritsen's many deserved fans.

what's old is new again...

This weekend, the Tumer Classic Movie channel was having a Spenser Tracy marathon that I happened upon.
Now I like movies...I lean toward 'small' movies, with subtitles is OK too...but quite honestly, I don't really watch older or so called 'classic' movies too often. That may well be my loss I am starting to think, after watch several of Mr. Tracy's movies that I took the opportunity yo Tivo.
What we might tend to forget, in our embrace of the idea that what is new is somehow better, is how very good and very modern these movies often are.

First there were two with his frequent co-star, Katherine Hepburn, Adam's Rib and Without Love. My gosh, how very well written these movies were! What witty, what funny, what smart dialogue these movies had. They really put the writing in many new movies to shame and make them sound so dumbed down. Then there was Captains Courageous, in which Tracy played a Portuguese fisherman on a boat out of Gloucester...a sailing fishing rescues a very spoiled rich boy, played by Freddie Bartholomew, who had fallen off a cruise ship. The boy spends the next two months on the with them before they return to port and of course, comes out learning many lessons about what it means to be a good person. Sounds a bit hokey, but it was really very sweet and quite clever with a very touching ending. Yep, tears were shed.

And the last one I watched was The Seventh Cross, based on a novel of the same name by the German refugee writer Anna Seghers. Set in Nazi Germany of 1936, it is the story of seven men who escape from a concentration camp, and while being hunted down, are often betrayed by those they trust and helped by those you would least expect. Produced in 1944, in the very height of WWII, one would expect it to paint the German people in a very black and white way. But contrary to that expectation, it is really a much more balanced and ultimately hopeful view of the inherent goodness of humanity.
That might be a book worth looking into as well.

I will leave you and my brief homage to the films of Spenser Tracy, with a quote from Without Love that I thought was particularly good. Hepburn and Tracy are married in the movie, but a marriage in name only, in an attempt to help the war effort..well, you have to watch the movie maybe to get it. But of course, they start to fall in love and when Hepburn's character almost considers a dalliance with a handsome friend, she realizes that she actually loves her husband and confesses her almost 'fall'. Tracy's character responds...

“You're not the falling type. You're like the tower of Pisa. You may have certain leanings but you always remain upright.”

Snappy patter, ya gotta love