Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Daniel Turns 40!

Over the decades a multitude of family, friends, acquaintances and strangers have extended themselves to look out for our son, Daniel. He was born with a rare congenital disability called Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS), and though he is mild on the scale of the syndrome, he is daily in need of assistance, understanding and broad TLC.

I decided that for his 40th birthday we would invite over all those we could think of who know him and serve him. Unfortunately, the multitude of strangers who have stepped up to help him over the years are unknown to me--the ones who scrape him off the sidewalk when he has had a seizure, or make sure he stays safe when he is confused. I trust they have been blessed for their service to a stranger.

We held the party in our backyard with about 75 people who came to enjoy refreshments and good company. Others sent card or email wishes. The evening was happy and successful for all except Daniel. One of the common features of CdLS is epilepsy, and on the day of his party he had three seizures before it began, and one more smack in the middle of it. Epilepsy is one big question mark as seizures strike unpredictably. Other challenges that accompany CdLS are autism, reflux, behavior issues, and the need for occupational--physical--speech therapy, all of which were part of our lives for many years. We never heard of autism until he was about 20 years old and (forgive me parents of autistic children, no offense intended) I've since thought that if I only had to deal with that one thing, life would be comparatively breezy.

The day Daniel was born marked a huge change in our lives, though it was a while before we really comprehended that. Because CdLS is rare, he was not diagnosed until he was five and a half years old. During those years he spent a boatload of time at the doctor and hospital. So many things were wrong and sometimes it appeared he was wasting away toward death. On his first birthday he weighed all of 13 pounds. The worst part was that a few doctors thought his condition was my fault. Those few insinuated that I must be under-feeding him, or did a prodigious amount of drinking or dope smoking during Daniel's pregnancy.

The day he was born I woke up having contractions and figured it was false labor, as he was not due for over five weeks. I did some laundry and the labor did not go away. I took my oldest next door to Vicki's to be watched during my regular weekly doc appointment. She had friends there, and as I stood at the door a major contraction slammed me and I doubled over. Friend Lois witnessed it and insisted on driving me to the doc. When we arrived the waiting room was crowded, and yikes, the doc was over at the hospital saddled with two deliveries. So we waited. And waited.

Labor became intense. The nurse was sure it was Braxton-Hicks labor. Lois held my hand as we sat there for two hours until the doc returned. I was taken in first because of my condition. He did a quick check and ordered me to not even breathe because I was about to have a baby. Lois pushed me in a wheelchair across the courtyard to the hospital. Lo and behold, there was a good friend of ours who worked with Craig, standing at the check-in. He dashed for his car to go fetch Craig from work. In the delivery room there wasn't time for any niceties. Daniel was born not breathing and the pediatrician flew into the room to save him. Craig showed up a few minutes later. It was a relief to hear Daniel finally cry.

For some years I had to fight for services for Daniel. It was frustrating that he was labeled "failure to thrive" (the catchall term used when something is very wrong but there is no diagnosis). Shame on me, but I remember being jealous of my friend whose Down Syndrome baby was accepted for therapy immediately, because: Down Syndrome. Daniel was acutely debilitated, yet in the 70s and 80s services were almost unavailable for a child with an ambiguous problem.

Eventually he was accepted into a therapy program, but until then I was a swimmer floundering in the deep. Life rings were in view all around, yet I nearly drowned before permission was given for someone toss one to me. Now it is recognized that disabled children must received services immediately, no matter the cause. No parent has to go begging and pleading for help, thank goodness!

Well, decades have passed with their ups and downs. Daniel is thriving. He attends a weekly activity program for disabled adults. He volunteers at the library. He spends a day a week at our son's house helping with projects, walking the dog, attending Cub Scouts with his nephew. Our local bus service  takes him pretty much where he needs to go. Daniel has a flourishing bottle and can business supported by neighbors all around (returnables are worth 10 cents here!).

In the quarterly periodical sent out by the CdLS Foundation I read a parent's story about his seriously disabled child. After summing up the challenges the family faced, he concluded by expressing his deep love for his child, and said something like, "I just don't know how we could live without him." Yup, my sentiments exactly!

Friday, April 20, 2018

A Visit To the LBJ Presidential Library

Earlier this week we visited the LBJ Presidential Library on the campus of the University of Texas in Austin. What an insight into his personal and political life it was, and into his motives and principles and personality. LBJ was the President of the United States 1963-1969, a time period that encompasses my growth from childhood to mid-adolescence. I well remember when he took the oath of office aboard Air Force One under terrible terrible circumstances, and the chaotic and trying events that hammered our country during his presidency.

oath of office on Air Force One, November 22, 1963; this photo gives me a catch in my throat every time I see it

My strongest recollection of LBJ occurred when I was in eighth grade. On March 31, 1968, I was in my bedroom working on a school geography assignment at my desk. Mom and Dad called for me to come into the living room right away. LBJ was addressing the nation on TV about the future of the Vietnam War, then shocked Americans by announcing he would not seek nor accept the nomination for a second term as president. He appeared noticably older than his 59 years. It was the Vietnam War that did it. An unwinnable war, it was proving nearly impossible to extract ourselves from Southeast Asia. Here is LBJ addressing the nation that night. His feelings about a second term are voiced beginning at about 39 minutes. Modern Commanders-in-Chief should regard their role in as dignified a manner as LBJ did.

Our visit to the Library gave me a considerable appreciation for his accomplishments, which were many. His Great Society--civil rights, Medicare / Medicaid--and the War on Poverty have had long-reaching effects for Americans. I'm no Democrat, but all of these triumphs are appreciated by Americans of all persuasions and have enhanced the quality of life for all.

LBJ was known for his dynamic, forceful nature, and his unique way of relating to people, called "the Johnson treatment." He was a large man, 6' 3" tall, and at least 200 pounds. He charged ahead to get what he wanted, and left no doubt in the minds of his co-workers that he expected them to join his crusades. See below!

"the Johnson treatment"

When you enter the library you are greeted with an actual presidential limo parked in the lobby. The various rooms are dedicated to particular aspects of LBJ's presidency. Some of the displays portray the cultural context of the times. There are telephones on the wall that play recorded conversations he had with various political figures. I enjoyed listening to some of those. In the multi-story gallery are all the presidential portraits along with those of the first ladies. I believe I was gazing at Barbara Bush's portrait right about the time she passed away.

Our time at the library and museum was well spent.

LBJ Presidential Library, University of Texas in Austin

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Meet the New President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Russell M. Nelson is now the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The news was announced at a press conference this morning in Salt Lake, headquarters of the Church. President Nelson was a heart surgeon before his commitment to serve the Lord full-time. An optimistic, positive, extremely capable person, he will be a blessing to the Church and the world at large, during the years he is at the helm.

Our dear President Thomas S. Monson passed away two weeks ago. He was my mother-in-law's third cousin, though they never met. Both were descended from a valiant Scottish pioneer family that has a slew of faithful descendants today.

President Monson served for ten years as president of the Church, and had been an Apostle for about 55 years. I just got to thinking that he was the very last of the Apostles who was already in that position when I joined the Church in 1972. All others of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles have been ordained since I have been a member.

President Nelson chose as his counselors, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring. Oaks, 85 years, has been a lawyer, law professor, judge, author, and university president. Eyring, 84, is an Air Force veteran, author, has a BS in physics, a doctorate in business administration from Harvard, and was an educator at Stanford University.

Besides his life's work as a heart surgeon (he graduated from med school at age 22), President Nelson is a fluent Mandarin speaker, Korean War veteran, and has 57 grandchildren and 116 great-grandchildren! Interesting that during the press conference this morning, he reminded the audience that "Not one of us asked to be here," us meaning those who serve the Church full-time. No one campaigns for these positions. We believe in the Lord's call to the work.

Just as President Monson served with all his heart and strength, so will President Nelson. He said this morning, "I declare my devotion to God our Heavenly Father, and his son Jesus Christ. I pledge to serve them with every remaining breath of my life." This cannot be an easy thing, as he is 93 years old. He has already, and will continue to give his all in service to the Lord and His Church. I have such gratitude to know there is a prophet on the earth today who understands the Lord's will, and can lead in accordance with divine revelation.

Oaks, Nelson, Eyring

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Books 2017

My books are nearly all in audio format these days. I save my reading time for news, scriptures, The Economist mag and a few other things. I check Amazon to see if a book has charts or photographs. If yes, I get it at the library to look at. Often I don't even take it home from the library, but flip through it right there and turn back in.

There are a few five star books in my list, and plenty of enjoyable books that were nearly that level. 1776, The Unthinkable, The Men Who United the States, Astoria, True Grit, and The Virginian made the top cut. 29 books this year are non-fiction, and 27 are fiction.

*asterisk indicates audio book


1776* by David McCullough, 5 stars: I love McCullough's books. Each delves into a time period or event in our country, and tells the reader just about everything they need to know about that time or thing. 1776 was a tough year for Americans. The hand of God is apparent in our nation's birth, which the author brings out.

If I Can't Have You: Susan Powell by Gregg Olson, 3 1/2 stars: Susan Powell disappeared from her home in December 2009 and has not been seen since. A devoted mother of two pre-school boys, she also worked full-time, was active in the LDS Church, and had deep fears about her future. Her husband was a narcissist who strictly controlled their finances, social life, etc., could be irrational at times, and kept their lives in a state of constant turmoil. Her fear of him was intense enough that she secreted a note at work telling friends and family that if something happened to her, look at Josh. His story about his actions the night she vanished was so crazy weird that I'm surprised the cops didn't arrest him on the spot. With all the evidence pointing to one perp, Josh, it's unfathomable that he was out walking around, corrupting the two boys with his hatred of Susan's family and church. He never was arrested for Susan's disappearance, and in 2012 took the lives of his boys and himself in a most dreadful way.

One Man's War* by Tommy LaMore, 3 stars: Some reviewers think that parts of this book are made up, as events push the edge of reality. This guy joined the Army Air Corps in World War 2 and ended up in air missions over Europe. After his plane was shot down he joined the French Resistance, was captured and interned in a POW camp, and escaped. Meanwhile he fell in love with a prisoner he freed at another camp. Worth reading.

Duke: The Life and --- of John Wayne* by R.L. Davis, 4 stars: Why do I like John Wayne?  I decry the sleaze and self-importance of modern day actors, yet am impressed with Wayne, who everyone knows was no saint. I loved this book even though yes, John Wayne had affairs, was particular about his friends, and drank like a fish. The strong, do-right, patriotic characters he played created his fan base. He had zero tolerance for sissies and liberals and held antiquated ideas on race and women's rights. What a guy!

Undisclosed 2* by Rabia Chadrey, 3 stars: A 20+ hour podcast series, it delves into the case of Joey Watkins, a teenager who was convicted of murder in Rome Georgia. The case against him was full of errors and mistakes, and this series is working with The Georgia Innocence Project to get his case overturned. Not as riveting as Adnan Sayed's case, but still detailed and fascinating. Studying Adnan's case gave me the realization that I live in a bubble, and the Watkins case reinforces that. Kids smoking dope, running people off the road with their cars, shooting at friends to scare them, sheesh. That stuff doesn't happen here in Bethany, but then, what do I know? Oh, we do have an arsonist on the loose burning down new houses.

The First Heroes* by C. Nelson, 3 3/4 stars: Jimmy Doolittle's Raid in detail. It was not quite halfway through 1942 and the US needed a morale-building and strategic victory against Japan.  Pearl Harbor had been bombed recently w/ great loss of life. The audacious idea to bomb Tokyo was just what the US needed. Those who participated could have bailed but they did not, even knowing their chances of survival were minimal. A great Allied victory makes a great narrative.

The Unthinkable, second reading, 5 stars. Everyone should read this book. It is full of examples of how people did or did not survive disaster, and though we don't know without experience how we will react in disaster, reading The Unthinkable will at least motivate us to contemplate and plan how we should react. Interesting and tragic real life examples relate to my own activities. I have ridden huge commuter ferries, flown on planes, and have visited places that have been attacked by terrorists, thankfully not while I have been present. No one knows the future. The book is not attempting to cause panic or make people unreasonably hyper-sensitive. Rather it is equipping readers with tools they can use when when the unthinkable happens, because it will.

Eleven Days in December* by Stanley Weintraub, 3 stars: A short chronicle of not the entire Battle of the Bulge, but focusing on Christmas for the soldiers and civilians. The unexpected surge by the German army surprised the Allied command and foiled celebrations for all. Patton himself commented on hoping for good weather to kill Germans and what an irony, given whose birthday was being celebrated. My Dad's cousin Andy was killed near Bastogne in early January 1945. I picture him having one last Christmas, perhaps stuck in a frozen foxhole wondering when the horrible war would ever end.

Adnan's Story by Rabia Chaudrey, 3 3/4 stars: Rabia reviews Adnan's case as it was presented in Serial, with many additional details and her own commentary. It ends with Adnan's 2016 hearing. The case is fascinating and appears to be one of mistaken conviction. Convictions are being overturned all over the country, based on DNA evidence that wasn't available when the crimes were committed.

The Innocents Abroad* by Mark Twain, second reading, 3 3/4 stars. Published in 1869, the language and Twain's attitudes towards residents of other countries are antiquated. If you can wade through that, the book is full of marvelous observations of even obscure lands not long before modernity changed everything. My favorite is Twain's description of Damascus Syria.

When Breath Becomes Air* by Paul Kalanathi, 4 stars: Author was a dedicated neurosurgeon and writer who contracted cancer. He tells his story and the struggle between being a physician and a patient. This is a moving story that all should read. However, reading it made me realize that as a "civilian," meaning I am not involved in health care in any other way than being a patient, I probably would not receive the advantages in treatment the author did, because of his connections within his profession.

Hero of the Empire* by Candace Millard, 4 stars: Winston Churchill's young adult years. He was unusual in that he knew without a doubt that he was destined for something great. Because of his firm belief, he truly knew that he would not die, even when involved in the Boer War in South Africa. He became a POW there and had some tough experiences. It's kind of amusing though, that his his patrician life followed him even into the POW camp, to some degree. I have to wonder how he would have coped had he been in a "real" POW camp, say under the Japanese during WW2. A good book.

Lincoln and the Decision For War* by R. McClintock, 3 stars:  Even though the topic of the book was similar to my BYU senior thesis (1976), it was difficult to get into this book. I listened to it on my phone. Reading it would have been better so that I could take my time digesting the facts and complicated situations. The buildup toward the Civil War did not happen in overnight, or even in a few years.  It was a drawn out process involving misunderstandings and resentment. Buchanan, Lincoln's predecessor, neglected to take actions which could have pruned the conflict. Lincoln stepped into office to face a powder keg whose fuse had already been lit, and was shrinking by the minute. In his first month in office those around him noticed he became aged and weary.

David and Goliath* by Malcolm Gladwell, 3 stars: Author's premise is that an easy life is not always a successful or productive life. He presents a multitude of examples to show how challenges, heartbreak and trials breed achievement in many people. I can personally attest to this in my own life, yet his premise seems too simple. Too many folks are crushed under by the same circumstances that forces others to rise to the top. Why is anyone's guess. Still, I do believe that most do better with hard work.

King of Kings* by D. Carlin, 4 1/2 stars: Dan on the Persian Empire in 3 parts; 13-hour total podcast. If you like history you'll like Dan Carlin. I sure do!

The President Will See You Now* by P. Grande, 4 stars: Author worked in President Reagan's office. She writes about what she observed and experienced in that intimate setting. Reagan was a true gentleman. At times I had tears in my eyes thinking about what Americans have lost, especially since the 2016 election.

Dead Mountain by Donnie Eichar, 3 1/2 stars: In the late 1950s, nine Russian college students on a winter camping trip disappeared under weird circumstances. This modern explorer outfits an expedition to determine what happened 50 years ago in the frozen north of Russia. He ends the book with his theory which sounds very plausible.

D-Day: The Battle For Normandy* by A. Beevor, 3 stars: review of the invasion Normandy and its aftermath. Detailed and informative, I learned stuff I didn't know.

Flags of Our Fathers* by J. Bradley (2nd reading), 4 stars: Great chronicle of a group of average American boys who stepped up in the cause of their times (including Bradley's father). Their stories center around the famous flag-raising at Iwo Jima. Not long before listening to this book in mid-2017, the Marine Corps announced that the author's father was not one of the flag raisers in the famous photograph, after all. But still, the portrayal of a few who went into harm's way is a marvel.

The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimir Putin* by SL Myers, 4 stars: Putin's rise from his early life in the KGB to being head of it, then lifted by Boris Yeltsin and to the Russian presidency. Author makes out Putin to be a one-track dedicated principled man. By the end of the book, as his life has progressed, much of that principle has vanished, but he'll always be dedicated to making Russia great again. Eye-opening and frightening to see what Putin has become. Book lends to understanding of Russia and Putin.

Shark Drunk* by M Stroksnes, 3 3/4 stars: I would not have listened to this book but for a strange switcheroo. On my audio book website I downloaded a different book, but when I played it, it was Shark Drunk. What the heck? The first few minutes sounded interesting, so I read the Amazon reviews which were good, and ended up liking it. It's by a Norwegian who tells us all about the sea over the backdrop of him and his friend wanting to snare a Greenland shark. It's an amusing and interesting book.

The Men Who United the States* by Simon Winchester, 5 stars: Weaving the story of America's explorers and innovators, author reviews American history. Earth, fire, metal, wood and water--all of these elements, in conjunction with the men who used them, connected and unified the states and made America what it is today. This is a great book.

The Radium Girls* by Kate Moore, 4 1/4 stars: After the discovery of radium, this important element was put to work in numerous ways, one of which was the painting of dials and watch / clock faces with the element. That's what made them light up to be easy to read. The author goes into great detail about the women who began developing severe, even fatal illnesses that doctors could not diagnose. After a few years some of the women accused the factories of hiding the danger of working with radium; factories lawyered up and a lot of years passed before they were found guilty of knowingly exposing their workers to dangers. Not a pleasant topic but a well-written book.

Way Below the Angels by Craig Harline, 4 stars: A transparent honest memoir of the author's Mormon missionary service in Belgium over 30 years ago. He experienced the trite stereotypes about Mormon missions, such as greenie missionaries making astronomical baptism goals, returning missionaries declaring their missions the best two years of their lives, and so on. Europe is not exactly fertile ground for missionary success, and some of the author's experiences were scarring.  I appreciate his candor. What I welcomed most was his understanding at the end of his mission that perhaps the lasting impact he made was the friendships with some of the non-Mormon Belgian people.

The Great War of Our Time* by Michael Morell, 3 3/4 stars: Former CIA employee and deputy director, Morell discusses terrorism mostly post 9-11, post-OBL, post Arab Spring. He was with President Bush on 911, he gave daily briefings to two presidents, and witnessed first-hand the US strategy in combating terrorism. It's a mostly non-biased account of his work under several presidents and CIA directors. Well worth reading for an understanding of how our government has approached the terrorism issue.

Astoria* by Peter Stark, 5 stars: Astoria reminds me of Undaunted Courage by Stephen Ambrose, a book that is on my top ten list. John Jacob Astor was determined to create a fur-trade monopoly in the early 1800s. A successful know-how business man, he sent a ship around Cape Horn to the mouth of the Columbia River to establish an emporium, or clearing-house, for all the furs that could be got in the Pacific Northwest. At the same time he sent a party overland with tons of supplies to meet the ship. That party suffered terribly in their attempt to make it to what became Astoria, Oregon, founded 1811. Even though Lewis and Clark had made a similar journey half a decade previous, neither Astor or the men making the journey could have known the punishment that the vast empty landscape and the Western  elements would impose on them. What a fascinating well-written story this book is! The only negative is that the maps and text are not exact enough for me in describing where events happened. It has made me crazy poring over modern maps attempting to match places with descriptions given in the narrative. But I highly recommend the book.

Ghosts of the Tsunami by R.L. Parry, 4 1/2 stars: One Japanese town suffered an unspeakable toll from the 2011 tsunami. Scores of children in the elementary school were not evacuated to higher ground, and most were lost. Book examines the whys of this, and the aftermath, and delves into the psyche of the surviving family members. Parents were desperate to locate their children's remains. One woman went as far as to become a licensed backhoe operator, and was able to dig up bodies in the muck. Super tragic, but more so because many children could have been saved if they had been guided to the hill behind the school. There was time. Fascinating study, and low-key. Author simply an observer, does not moralize.

 Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher*, 4 1/4 stars by T. Egan: Egan chronicles the life of Edward Sheriff Curtis, a Seattle photographer who photographed Indian tribes all around the US, recorded their language, filmed them, and published a 20-volume archival-quality work on many of the tribes. He did all this from the 1890s until the 1930s, before the American Indian was much thought about as anything but savage. He impoverished himself, lost his family, ruined his health. His work is now recognized as remarkable. The book isn't gripping, as in, "I can't wait to see what happens next." It's a methodical examination of a man who certainly today might be seen as ADHD, or even manic or bi-polar. The work he did probably couldn't have been done by anyone who wasn't driven like he was.

Conscience of a Conservative* by Jeff Flake, 4 1/2 stars: For conservatives like me who are deeply disturbed by the divisive nature of modern politics, the abandoning of tried and true principles, and the fact that enough Americans drank the Trump kool-aid in 2016 to send our country spiraling, Flake's thoughts are a breath of fresh air. Much of what he says dittos my own thoughts. Every time I hear someone say, "Look at all the great things he's done in his first year!!," I wonder what they're talking about, yet simply say, "But at what cost?" The long-term cost of this administration will be devastating. Flake champions a Congress that can act for the good of the country, not for the good of the party. Amen.


Sovereign by C.J. Sansom, 4 starsThird book in Sansom's lawyer Matthew Shardlake series. I love the setting in the time of King Henry VIII of England. Sansom does a swell job of making you feel you are there on the street with his characters. This book takes place in York and London.

In Sunlight or in Shadow by Lawrence Block, 1 star: This book is a collection of short stories by writers, some well-known. Each was asked to write a short story based on one of Edward Hopper's paintings, and the one they chose is printed with the story. I didn't like most of the stories. A few of them were interesting. The premise is a good one though, but it just didn't hit the spot for me. 

The Three Musketeers* by Alexander Dumas, 4 stars: A young man named D'Artagne finds himself in a few scrapes, and becomes companions to three older men who are musketeers in the king's army. Adventures and love follow. Enjoyable classic story.

Shadow of Doubt* by T. Blackstock, 3 stars: A woman's second husband is poisoned with arsenic and all eyes turn to her as the suspect because. Because her first husband also was poisoned with arsenic, and he didn't make it. Not a bad plot and a good but not great book. Faith and belief play a part in this story and it is squeaky clean, which I appreciate.

Tipperary* by Frank Delaney, 3 3/4 stars:  A deftly woven tale about a Tipperary Irishman and an Englishwoman with Irish roots, focusing on a castle and estate in Tipperary which she apparently is heiress to. Both become involved in the rebellion and civil war that followed in 1922. Modern-day narrator himself becomes a key player in the story. Dreamy and holds interest well.

Byzantium* by Steven Lawhead, 3 1/2 stars: The Irish monk Aidan is among a group from his abbey at Kells who creates a marvelous illuminated text with covers made of tooled silver. The book is a gift to the Holy Roman Emperor in Constantinople, but during the pilgrimage to the city the monks are attacked and dispersed. Aiden ends up a prisoner and loses his faith. He finds himself among Danes, Arabs, and other "heathen" peoples. The story is pretty good mostly. I was able to visualize the abbey and gray wet shores of Eire, the Danish settlements, and the great city Byzantium.

The Dry* by J. Harper, 3 1/2 stars: An Australian policeman returns home to attend the funeral of an old friend, and comes to find the death suspicious. He dives into an investigation rather reluctantly, now being an outsider, but with a past that the townspeople remembered. I enjoyed the book.

Revelation by C.J. Sansom, 4 stars: Fourth book in the Shardlake series. I really love this series. The setting, the characters, the investigations, etc. are well-done. This is the first one in the series where I was able to guess the ending about 4/5 of the way through the book. Shardlake is so gloomy, and rightly so I guess. He's a hunchback who is picked on and discriminated against, will likely never marry, and even his friends sometimes turn against him. This book takes place in London and Westminster, and begins with the murder of one of Shardlake's long-time friends. He figures out that this murder and others have followed a pattern described in the book of Revelation.

1906* by J. Dealessandro, 3 stars: Set in San Francisco at the time of the 1906 earthquake. A female journalist becomes an informant against a mob boss at a time of deep corruption in the growing city.  Good but not great story.

Palace of Stone by Shannon Hale, 3 1/2 stars; The Princess Academy graduates become involved in the political turmoil in their kingdom, even putting their lives at risk. Not as good as The Princess Academy but a satisfying story.

The Black Tulip* by Alexander Dumas, 4 stars: As with many books written in this era, I couldn't keep the characters straight for a while. My secret is to look up the book in Wikipedia to read about the plot and characters, and then proceed. It turned out to be an intriguing story pertaining to a man who spent years developing a black tulip in order to win a monetary prize in Holland, for doing what it was thought could not be done. The tulip is hijacked and during much of the story it appears his hard work was for naught. Dramatic tale!

Trailin'* by Max Brand 2 1/2 stars: Precocious Easterner travels West to solve a family mystery that was breathed to him by his dying father in NY. Entertaining.

Ben-Hur* by General Lew Wallace, 4 stars:  Saw the movie as a child and it was so memorable. Now I've finally read the book which is excellent. It's Christ's story as it affected certain people at the time, and the author creates three dimensional characters to portray Christ's life-changing message.

The Day of the Jackal* by F. Forsyth, 4 stars: Second reading. This is a well-crafted, intriguing story of an attempted assassination of Charles DeGaulle when he was president of France. Great book for mystery - intrigue  fans.

The Murder of King Tut* by J. Patterson, 1 stars: I got this audio book because I thought it was non-fiction and that new information had come forth about Tut's death. It's a fictionalized account of Tut's life, doesn't go deep, and sometimes puts forth silly-ish descriptions of life in ancient Egypt. Meh. Didn't know until after reading it that this author cranks out the pulp fiction like it's a meat grinder. Not my style and not worth reading.

Quiet Until the Thaw* by A. Fuller, 4 stars: Setting for story is the Lakota's Pine Ridge reservation. Despite the tragic heritage of Native Americans, Rick Overlooking-Horse is able to live a peaceful life, while You Choose cannot. The book's message seems to be that heritage plays a strong part in who we are and how we act. That's way more true for Native Americans than for most of us. Many white Americans know next to nothing about their ancestry. This isn't my favorite Fuller book, and the language got pretty bad at times, yet the message is clear and valuable.

Radigan* by Louis LAmour, 2 1/2 stars: A rancher is pushed off his land in wild, lawless Montana. Entertaining but average story.

The Virginian* by Owen Wister, 5 stars:  I never ever get tired of this classic and have read it many times, and have listened to it about five times. The narrator is superb and a good match for the reality and roughness of the landscape in which the story occurs. Must read!

The Chilbury Ladies Choir* by Jennifer Ryan, 2 1/2 stars: The story is not a bad one, even though formulaic. Set during World War Two in an English village suffering through the Battle of Britain, the story contains stock characters: a bossy older woman, an obnoxious World War One veteran, tiresome English patricians, a pair of beautiful sisters, a conniving midwife, a level-headed widowed nurse, and of course, billeted soldiers. The intense emotions that people would feel in their various trying circumstances, did not come through. I felt like people were shrugging their shoulders at the hardships they had to endure: bombings, deaths, sons going off to war, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, etc. I listened to this book on tape which probably made it better than reading would have been. Each part was read by a different actor, which added to the story. It's a book I wouldn't have picked up if it had not been my book group's choice. I find most modern fiction is not very enticing (too shallow).

Because of Winn Dixie* by Kate DiCamillo, 4 stars: Sweet, fun story of a girl looking for acceptance and love. Motherless Opal goes to the store for groceries and comes home with a dog.  The dog opens doors in her life. All of her adventures with the dog end up bringing people together in a very nice way. Read it with your kids.

 Hondo* by Louis LAmour, 2 stars: Rough, tough military scout meets woman left alone on their ranch by her husband. It's Apache country, and he's concerned about her. Average Western story, though unrealistic in terms of their relationship (too fast). Not L'Amour's best.

True Grit* by Charles Portis, 5 stars: This book is now on my top-ten list! The narrator is so excellent; I ended up listening to it twice in a row. A young teen tracks her father's killer through Arkansas with a drunken criminal sheriff. Two good movies have been made from this extraordinary story.


Death in Holy Orders* by P.D. James, 3 stars: Inspector Dalgleish takes a holiday but ends up investigating four seemingly unrelated deaths at a remote seminary on England's coast. I like the Dalgleish mysteries. This one is worth reading though not my favorite PD James.

The Women in the Castle* by Jessica Shattuck, 2 stars: Various women and children are brought together in the manor house of one of them, for better or worse, during and after World War 2 in Germany. They are widows, and several of the husbands were executed for participating in the plot to assassinate Hitler. I never felt very engrossed in the lives of the characters. The personalities and events were rather dull and flat. The story stayed on the surface of the women's lives. It was all kind of "meh."

Shane* by Jack Schaefer, 4 1/2 stars: A Western classic, I've read it before and have seen the Alan Ladd movie. But still, I find myself analyzing it over and again. "What was it about Shane that changed the lives of the Starrett family and of the town, and even that region of Wyoming?" And, "How did the family, the town and the region affect Shane?" So much isn't said about Shane, so it takes some deep thinking to fully understand this story. What is not in the book is, "Shane! Come back Shane!" When high school English classes showed the movie after reading the book, for days students walked the halls quoting this line from the movie, which is absent in the book. The movie's setting is stunning. A must read book. Here is the trailer from Shane.

My Cousin Rachel* by Daphne DuMaurier, 3 stars: Dark and mysterious, like Rebecca. Young English man is heir to his cousin's estate, when cousin dies unexpectedly in Italy. Cousin's widow shows up in England and mesmerizes young man, to the point he is headed for destruction. Intriguing.

Number the Stars* by Lois Lowry, 4 stars: Based on the true story of the Danish people sheltering and transporting Jews to safety during World War 2. Older children could read this in conjunction with The Hiding Place, The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Book Thief.