Monthly Archives: January 2015

Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella – Book

Shopaholic to the Stars

Novels that are comedic are hard to find. Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series has provided readers with plenty of fun for a number of years now. These stories are in the mode of Bridget Jones’ Diary except that Becky Brandon’s weakness is shopping, not relationships. Fortunately Becky has the hunky and dependable Luke who loves her consistently and in spite of his occasional disapproval of her sometimes “shallow” pursuits. Fortunately for both Becky and Luke, Becky has a more insightful side to her character and she is repentant when her behavior is over-the-top (as it frequently is). Becky is a spontaneous person with an adventurous personality and without a shy bone in her body.

When Becky and Luke go to Hollywood because Luke (a freelance financial consultant) has agreed to work with a young star, Sage Seymour, whose career seems to be on a downturn, we are prepared for a whole new level of Becky enthusiasms. Becky sets her sights on becoming a style guru to the stars. When Becky’s royal friends, the Lord and Lady Cleath-Stuart join them in California we have lift-off, but with glitches, many, many glitches. Before she married Tarquin Cleat-Stuart, Suze was Becky’s best friend and their friendship is still strong.

Perhaps the generation of readers which enjoys Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic books doesn’t remember or know about Lucy, Ricky, Ethel and Fred, but Becky is a modern Lucille Ball and she has her husband and two best friends by her side through thick and thin – through fun and humiliation. And so, in Shopaholic to the Stars by Sophie Kinsella, we get that rare beast, the comic novel, for those times when readers “just want to have fun”.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

Space Milestones, my Dad, and the Kelly Twins

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I am fascinated by space and I am a real science fiction junkie, although I am not the least bit interested in going to space. I inherited my space obsessions from my Dad who would have been an engineer if he had not been born into a very poor family made even poorer by the Great Depression. Although my Dad had to leave school in the eighth grade to support his family, he became a talented mechanic and electrician. He took a mail order course and taught himself calculus. He rewired our old family home and his wiring still holds up to the many new demands of our high tech age. We used to star gaze occasionally on a balmy summer evening and dream of space. My Dad’s nickname was Brain.

Dad Nancy Connie

Alas, I did not inherit my Dad’s innate math intelligence; I was wired for language, words. I never conquered calculus and even advanced algebra was a real reach. Words have sufficed to keep me connected to outer space, however, because most of our space exploration is imaginary at this point. So I am not space literate – I cannot follow the flights of mathematical formulae that calculate space mechanics or space trajectories or even those that map stars, planets, galaxies. When I added an astronomy class in college the math of exponents turned my language-wired brain into a pretzel.

But there is enough romance and hope in the creative contemplation of space travel that I can’t ever be truly earthbound again. Somewhere in the bowels of my blog are two lists of the sci-fi books I have read, and throughout the past five years in the reading diary I have maintained on my blog the sci-fi genre is still well represented. But I also like to follow the real life dramas of humans and our mostly unmanned encounters with the seemingly unlimited and light-spangled space that surrounds our tiny planet.

We put astronauts on the moon. (My Dad was alive for that one.) We put a powerful telescope in orbit and named it Hubble. It has sent us astounding photos of things so distant and enormous that we, in spite of the beauty of it all, shiver when we imagine fragile humans loose in that immensity. We know the asteroids that are near earth and we know their paths. Last week an asteroid whizzed by very near our planet and the event was barely mentioned. We, along with Russia, maintain a space station in near earth orbit. But we have not had manned space expeditions that have gone further than the moon. We have had two Mars landing “robots” meet and greet each other on the surface of Mars. That’s a bit spacey, but no human has been able to travel in space beyond the Moon.

So we take our baby steps towards space exploration while we wait for a technology that will make such ventures less risky and which will not be quite so challenging in terms of the time such travel entails. One such baby step, which I will be keeping an eye on, is beginning on March 17, 2015. Scott Kelly, American astronaut and Mikhail Kornienko, Russian Cosmonaut will enter the International Space Station for a year long stay. Russian cosmonauts, in 1980 – 1990, completed one year stays aboard Mir, so this current mission is not a “first”.

Scott Kelly will be the first American to stay for one year in space. Scott Kelly is a twin and his twin brother, Mark Kelly, is also an astronaut and he will remain on earth. What makes this stay in space especially interesting is the comparisons that will be made between the effects of space on Scott’s physiology and psychology, with Mark used as a sort of base line or scientific control factor here on earth. Perhaps this will put us one step closer to Mars, or the vast universe. It also means that we are not just wasting time until space technology catches up to our dreams of space travel.

Link to an article about the Kelly Twins and the year in space

http://www.space.com/28056-year-long-space-mission-astronaut.html

Links to my Science Fiction book lists:

Book- My Favorite Science Fiction Stories from 8/23/2010

https://draft.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=453069755357542576#editor/target=post;postID=6015402441217222273;onPublishedMenu=posts;onClosedMenu=posts;postNum=21;src=postname

Reprise – Science Fiction Book Lists 12/26/2011

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By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

 

 

 

Andrew Cuomo and the Common Core

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Andrew Cuomo replaced some disastrous governors in New York State. He made Albany function again. However, he is hardly perfect. He is strong, but he is also patriarchal. He is not one to consult the various interest groups in the state and then arrive at his policy decisions by wending a careful line between them. He has his own firm opinions and he seems to work from the strategy that “if you want something done right (fast) you must do it yourself.”

It’s difficult to complain when Andrew Cuomo has set New York State back on a stronger financial path and when he does something as brave and endearing as issuing a fracking ban. But he has not managed to put much of a dent in the corruption that is so rampant in Albany and he created quite an as-yet-unresolved stir when he cancelled his own commission just when the members started to focus on him.

The good seems to outweigh the bad so far except for the Governor’s views on education. His stern edicts in this area are misguided and perhaps even harmful. Here he is at his patriarchal worst. He is a bull in the china shop, thrashing around and breaking everything.

This current trend to end tenure needs to go away. Tenure is not the problem, at least not the main problem, with education. Instead of ending tenure we need to get a great teacher evaluation system that will sort out hopeless educators, provide more training or support services for teachers who will be great with just a slight tweak, and which will provide merit awards to the best teachers.

I believe there is also such a strong tendency right now to blame unions and to engage in union busting and that this is a very wrong-headed tendency. Those in positions of authority have long histories of antipathy towards unions because unions give individuals the strength of a group of lobbyists. Unions give job security and the state is the boss in the case of teachers. Unions also promise benefits in lieu of salary increases that cost the state money – at least from a budget-eye view. Teachers, however, would have to demand higher salaries if such benefits as health insurance and pensions were not offered in place of wages. Current leaders feel that previous leaders made bad bargains and that it will be a pinch to honor these old deals. They would like to nullify these old bargains. Since our corporations left us and since many unions are left with no one to fight against, there has been some success with busting unions using right-to-work rulings.

This climate offers a perfect opportunity to attack public employee unions which have, by definition, an adversarial relationship with their managers (which are state and local government). Of course, without the protection of a strong teacher’s union the employer (the state) could move teacher salaries  and benefits up and down in response to the financial climate of the times offering little security or few incentives to our teachers who have families to support.

Cuomo is using a strict approach to teacher evaluation in order to break up what he feels is the unfair advantage that tenure gives to bad teachers. Teacher’s unions and teachers need to stop stonewalling and come up with such a system. A great peer review evaluation process could be every bit as effective as ending tenure and busting teachers’ unions and far more fair.

Not only does Governor Cuomo want to base teacher evaluations on tests and how students perform on tests, but he wants to base teacher evaluation on the new Common Core student evaluations. He’s an intelligent man so I am suspicious of his motives in taking this controversial stand. New York education standards were high enough that we did not need to go with the Common Core. Neither students nor teachers are used to the new Common Core curriculum. The tests do not accommodate for special education students or students with learning disabilities and we know it will be unclear for a number of years whether this population of students will ever be able to benefit from the Common Core approach.

I am very disheartened by the current “war on teachers” with government officials encouraging weary citizens to act like spectators at the gladiator contests in the old Roman arenas, going after teachers with a certain glee (perhaps people resent the relative security teachers still have because of their unions). The “war on unions” is also being enjoyed by factory workers who found that their unions actually had little power to protect them. It is quite effective to pit the people against the people.

At the federal level we see legislators trying to take down our system of social supports. They cite the suspicion that citizens are taking advantage of the system. We are doing the same thing with our schools, citing bad teachers that the system protects as a reason to take control away from teachers and from the unions. If you want to evaluate teachers then come up with a peer review system. If you want schools that function without the kinds of discipline issues we are seeing then get rid of the Common Core, find more interesting ways to implement it, or find some more interesting hands-on and community-based ways to stress math and science skills. Common Core may function well in upscale schools, although I doubt it, but it is not helping teachers or students in at-risk populations or schools.

Just putting your “mean” face on, Governor Cuomo, will not change a thing and only proves the anti-government argument that education should be taken out of the hands of government. I wouldn’t go that far but I don’t think the fact that the money flows through governments turns those who govern into education experts. Just divvy up the money fairly, facilitate teachers and schools, and step away from controlling curriculum or teacher evaluation. I’m talking to decision-makers at all governmental levels and I’m talking to you too, Governor Cuomo.

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images from Google image search

 

 

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

Last Week in the Political Time Machine

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Nick Gillespie writing in The Daily Beast last week accused Obama of going back to the 1950’s. Mr. Gillespie feels that child care is a minor issue in today’s America. How out-of-touch-in-the-male-bubble is he? He’s even out of touch with most men.

I grew up in the ‘50’s and my mom did not “work out”. She was not referring to her exercise routine when she said this. She meant she was a stay-at-home mom and did not work outside the home. Today she wavers between guilt about not “working out” and doubling down on her belief that women who have children should stay home and raise them. Child care may not have been an important national issue in the 1950’s but in the 21st century when two wage earners are basically necessary to maintain a comfortable life, and when we understand that both men and women require mental stimulation and satisfaction, child care is a key issue to any American with a child or children. Nick Gillespie may be the man who is stuck in the 50’s.

Even considering Obama’s plan for free community college attendance another author, who is more favorable to Obama, heads back to the 1950’s to talk about the GI Bill. For Republicans, who are grumbling about the takers who won’t or don’t work, voting yes to such a no-brainer, already-in-place, and relatively inexpensive program to train people for gainful employment is an idea that ought to warm the cockles of their little hearts. The fact that it doesn’t shows both their antipathy for Obama and their immovable attachment to a set of outdated positions, and puts them closer to the turn of the 19th century. They make Obama look positively avant-garde.

The time machine was activated again on Bill Maher’s HBO satirical commentary show last week. He had Brett Stevens as a guest, a Republican who has written a book called America in Retreat and who is still extolling the virtues of supply-side trickle-down economics and laissez faire capitalism. Stevens is sneering at Obama’s belief that by loosening the purse strings a bit to assist the middle class we may just jumpstart the very growth that the grumpy, penny-pinching GOP says we will get only if we go back to the wild days of the robber barons. We must go back, back before a labor union had ever been imported to America, back before a corporation had ever been taxed. We must be kind to the rich and then they might drop some pennies into the pockets of the middle class, but only those who work really hard.

Mr. Stevens is wrong but so smug and so convincingly righteous-seeming that he’s impossible to argue with. And that’s how Republicans are winning, by being an immovable object, just one stubborn bloc of solid misguided opinions. They do not seem to understand that the particular incarnation of the Industrial Revolution they are so in love with is over and they can’t get it back; just like the middle class will never have the factories back as they existed in the 20th century. Nineteenth century gone, twentieth century gone – we have nowhere to go but forward.

We will never get to try any new ideas with these dead weight buzz kills around. If I had to choose I would prefer being stuck in the 1950’s with the Democrats to being stuck in the 1890’s with the Republicans (and no unions).

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By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

 

The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe by Alexander McCall Smith – Book

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Alexander McCall Smith is back with a new novel in the #1 Ladies Detective Agency Series. He’s taking us back to Gaborone, Botswana to hang out with Mma Ramotzwe and her co-director (the newly and accidentally promoted) Mma Makutzi. Gaborone is a busier place than when A. M. Smith wrote the first book in this continuing saga. There were fewer cars and the cases that Mma R. and Mma M. solved were simpler, less modern, and more traditional in a small village sort of way.

The man who arrives at the detective agency this time is an Indian man, Mr. Sengupta. He explains that he has a woman staying at his home who has amnesia and she is under his protection. She wants to stay in his home and become a legal resident of Botswana but she and Mr. Sengupta don’t know where to begin since his guest has no documents. Mma suspects there is more to this story and so do we.

Mma Ramotzwe’s husband Mr. J.L.B. Matekone, owner of the Speedy Motors Garage, has had two apprentices for quite a while, Fanwell and Charlie. He finds he can no longer afford both young men and Charlie has shown no aptitude for repairing cars so he has to let Charlie go. What will become of the feckless and handsome Charlie we wonder?

At the same time Mma Makutsi, of the 97% score on her secretarial exam, of the thick glasses, of the slightly bossy personality, of the fancy high heels usually with bows that talk to her (suspend your disbelief) has married a wealthy, trustworthy, although slightly geeky furniture store owner named Phuti Rhadiputi. Her life, once devoid of any luxury except her shoes has now become enviable. She even has a new baby, a son. Her old rival at the secretarial school, who gets ahead by using her attractiveness to get men in high places to help her, Violet Sephotho, is jealous and she continues to make problems in Mma Makutsi’s life. When Mma Makutsi decides to open a new restaurant called the Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café and Violet Sephotho becomes a restaurant critic for the local newspaper we can expect trouble. It turns out that Violet is not Mma Makutsi’s only problem with the restaurant.

How all these threads get resolved is as heartwarming as usual and we happily wrap up another visit to Botswana. I always look forward to a new volume in this series. The title of this one is The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café. Alexander McCall Smith tells a delightful story without being “precious” (although Precious is Mma Ramotswe’s first name.) For a very small investment of your time you get a big return in mood-lifting. I’m not sure how many more times we will get to go to Botswana so I recommend that you get on board while you can.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

 

Not Redistribution of Wealth! Oh No!

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We need to help middle class workers prepare for new jobs. We need this kind of shot-in-the-arm free community college program that the President is recommending and that he talked about in his State of the Union address and that infrastructure stuff and child care. But we have learned all too much about “pay for-s” over the past six years.

“That’s impossible.” say the Republicans, “How will we pay for it?”

So then President Obama rolls out his tax plan. And it’s a doozie – an in-your-face Grover Norquist, No-Tax-Increase-Pledge doozie! And I am smiling a big smile even though I know it won’t fly. I also think that if we say it enough and own it enough it could all happen. We could have lower taxes for the middle class and we could raise the taxes on corporations and the wealthy. We are the people. It is our government. We are the 99%. They are the 1%.

“That’s ‘redistribution of wealth,” say the Republicans as if ‘redistribution of wealth’ is a mortal sin; as if it rings the ‘communism’ alarm bells in the heads and hearts of all sane capitalists.

Why should such obvious fear-mongering and name-calling bother us? This is not the days of Joseph McCarthy’s Un-American Activities regime which set out to ruin many successful Americans by painting them ‘red’ for ‘communist’. Americans have no wish to turn over all their property and money to the state and start a communist revolution in America.

What is clear to most middle class Americans is that we, however suspicious, were sort of uneducated on the wiles of politicians, and so we let these powerful and wealthy people create a set of rules about taxation and profit which sent most of America’s money to a few greedy, financially-savvy rip-off artists and that now that these people – these 1% – have all this money they are damned if they will let us rewrite the rules so that some of this profit stays with the middle class, and some of it funds the activities of our federal, state, and local governments in order to provide ourselves with the services and resources we need to keep America great.

Are we frightened of a label that was once considered a ‘politically dangerous’ one? Do we really believe that these people deserve all the monies that have accrued to them? They don’t employ us anymore, they don’t need us anymore. They want to be Americans in name only and pay nothing for the privilege.

We did not force our corporations out of America through middle class greed as these folks would have you believe. I will keep saying this until we all accept it. Globalization was inevitable. There was always going to be a moment when our corporations moved into less-developed nations. Nature abhors a vacuum. Once communism proved inferior as an economic system – at least the brands of communism that have been tried so far – it was just a matter of time before these communist countries loosened up. It was only a matter of time before business men’s eyes got bigger and bigger as they thought of all the potential buyers living in developing nations, how cheap labor would be, and how easy it would be to operate in countries with no environmental rules.

There is nothing the American worker could have done to stop this stampede. Stop letting the 1% blame the 99% for things they had no control over. Stop letting some simple words, said with a sort of implied sneer; words like ‘redistribution of wealth’; stop us from changing the way we tax wealth in America.

There could be backlash, unforeseen outcomes. Going up against people who are rich and powerful is not without consequences, but if we are already headed towards a serfdom of low wages and life-long toil, I think we should risk it. Raising taxes is cheaper, less disruptive, and less costly in terms of human lives than going through a revolution which is often how wealth gets redistributed. This is not a threat. This is, however, a historically accurate observation.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

 

Some Time Before the 2016 Election Please Read This

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We can probably all agree that Republicans have been quite inflexible over the past 6+ years and some of us might think that is a good thing and others may find this incredibly frustrating. Our Democracy has always been about compromise, although compromise has never been easy. If Republicans truly want things to be “their way or the highway” we have to decide if we can live with some of the things they are proposing. We may end up being lucky to have President Obama still in office with that veto pen. I know that I will anyway.

For example:  Abortion

Republicans want to see Roe v Wade overturned and to make abortion illegal in America. How far should Democrats give in on abortion? A right to an abortion is not an order to have an abortion; women have a choice. Do you believe that a woman can be trusted to make her own choice in this matter? Should she be able to consult a doctor if she wishes? Should men make decisions about abortion as Republicans seem to believe? In North Carolina a law was introduced that would require a husband’s/man’s signature before a wife/significant other could have an abortion. In Alabama they have passed a law which appoints a lawyer for a fetus and there must be a court trial before a teen can have an abortion. Why are we obsessing about this right now given the seriousness of other issues we need to deal with? Why are men trying to gain control over this matter and should they be able to do that? Choose carefully which side you are on in this because choosing to allow the Republicans to have their way will change life for women in America and it will change it a lot.

For Example: Benefits?

Republicans want to close down the social safety net. They want to do away with welfare, WIC, food stamps and Medicaid. I hear many Americans saying yes to pulling supportive services away from the poor and the (according to common wisdom) huge numbers of people who are gaming the system. So, many of you would say “yes, let’s do it”; let’s try the “sink or swim” approach, and you are betting that most people will make it safely to shore and get jobs and support themselves without your assistance.

However Republicans also want to get rid of Medicare and Social Security. They are starting with Social Security Disability because they know how many of you think that this system is full of cheaters. But they are not sorting out the cheaters; they are making across the board cuts? Will these cuts also affect those who clearly have physical disabilities? Will they stop with cutting only SS disability? Will you be able to stop them? Can’t you see the trend? Can’t you see that Republicans have their own small government agenda here and that they do this at the bidding of wealthy contributors who promise to buy elections for Republicans and who are already quite successful at it?

If you allow them to end Medicaid it will affect your care when you are old and ill. If you allow them to privatize Medicare the amount you are credited may cover less and less of your medical care? Are you willing to give more to charity for all of the poor people in America who can’t swim or don’t know how to swim? Do you think privatizing Social Security in these uncertain economic times is a good idea?

I believe you must decide how far you are willing to let Republicans go with dismantling our nation’s social safety net because they are already in the process of doing it. Without Obama’s veto power how much of the net would be voted out of existence in the next two years? How much will be changed if they have control of all branches of government over the next four years after 2016 with no checks and balances? I hope you are sure what you are choosing.

A few other questions:

How much deregulation of banks should we allow Republicans to enact? Is it OK for banks to speculate with your money as long as it is covered by the FDIC?

Are we sure that there is no such thing as climate change, no CO2 overload, no greenhouse effect, no global warming? Are we sure that nothing mankind can do will have any effect on the environment? Are you sure that sucking every ounce of oil out of our earth is a great idea? Are you sure that scientists are spouting bunk when they say the oceans are dying? Do you really believe that if we find it (fossil fuels, low wages) they will come back (our missing corporations) and that America will begin a New and Illustrious Industrial Age of Production and Consumer Consumption? If you want to put Republicans in charge of our government you had better be very sure that you agree with them on these things because they are “taking no prisoners”; they are unwilling to compromise about this. If you elect them, they have told you again and again what you will get.

Where do you stand on dismantling pensions; unions, voting rights? Are you really OK with all of these things? Republicans do not plan to only dismantle these items for people you don’t like; they are just as gung ho about doing it to you and yours? I can see where unions might seem a little beside the point right now although I bet one day we will wish we still had our unions, but what about pensions, and voting rights? Does it really seem fine to do away with polling places so that people are forced to travel long distances to vote? Why are we doing that? Perhaps a voter ID seems like a useful idea, but shouldn’t such a program be phased in over a period of time rather than passed one day and in use the next? Do you know where your birth certificate is? There are still people living in America who were never issued a birth certificate. Where do you stand?

Of course, this could go on and on if we wished to cover every issue that has come up recently in our news cycles. We have a logjam in Washington. There are so many issues piled up because Republicans want to put off making any decisions on these issues until they have enough control to have their way with us. Be very sure that you really, really think the Republican Way is the best one for America at this particular point in time and make your carefully considered decision now, before the 2016 election. I cannot believe that Americans truly want the things they are saying they want. America will be unrecognizable.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

Jimi Hendrix, Martin Luther King and the Republicans

Here is a download of a fine 3+ minutes in American history. It may not be everyone’s taste choice but to bring patriotism to the irreverence of Woodstock and the whole anti-establishment movement would not have worked unless the arrangement was created for that particular audience. That’s why it’s a classic because it was so well attuned to an obstreperous segment of our nation’s population in 1969, and it still speaks to many Americans even today.

For Jimi Hendrix, an American of African descent, to express his American heritage in the way that he did is pretty amazing considering the way America has treated its darker-skinned artists who traveled the roads of a nation that shut the doors of its hotels and restaurants to people who inherited too much melanin. In previous generations many African-American entertainers went to live in Europe where they were not restricted.

Jimi Hendrix was born in Seattle, Washington, right near Canada so perhaps did not encounter as much negativity in his early years. We lost Jimi Hendrix to an accidental overdose of barbiturates at the age of 27. I wish we could speak to an alternate Jimi Hendrix who made it through successive years and trends and histories so he could give his perspective on all that has happened. Would he still put his patriotism on stage for his peers to enjoy?

It’s embarrassing to admit how much trouble America has had accepting humans who probably simply exhibit the biological adaptations that helped them survive in the planet’s hot zones. If you don’t believe in evolution, then I guess you don’t accept the idea of biological adaptation either.

Our forefathers said, back in the day, that all men are created equal: they did not say all “white” men. But we know of course that the forefathers meant all white men because black men were counted as 3/5 of a person and white and black women were not counted at all. As a woman, you can see why I would fight against allowing Conservatives to gain power especially if they are Fundamentalists who advocate that we return to a strictly literal interpretation of our founding documents.

I believe that Americans of African descent cannot afford to be Republicans (although I would never deny that right to them) for the very same reasons as white women. These extremist Conservatives, should they get their way, could (might) erase all human rights except those that belong to white men. We should not still be at this disgraceful place, however tempting exclusion might seem to some as a simple solution to complicated relationships. We are proud of a creed of equality that we do not practice. Shame on us.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday I say that he knew all this – and he fought against it all his too short life. Perhaps that’s what Jimi Hendrix was doing too.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

 

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling – Book

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There is something about the way J. K. Rowling writes even when she is being Robert Galbraith that suits me very well. She creates vivid characters with just a few words as some artists are able to do with a few strokes of their pen and I find myself happy to spend time with them. This one valuable fiction writing skill that J. K. Rowling has mastered. The best characters in The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith are the main characters. The suspects we meet in the “publishing/writing” world are more caricatures than characters. Perhaps her villains seem a bit exaggerated because Rowling knows the world of publishing a bit too well.

The other skill she has mastered is essential to writing good fiction. She knows how to tell a great story that sweeps the reader in and becomes so engrossing that the reader wants to neglect his/her own real life duties and read straight through to the end (which always arrives too soon). So while J. K. Rowling may or may not qualify as a great literary writer, she is an eminently readable writer. The only one of her books that did not have that trait of compulsive readability was The Casual Vacancy, her first book after Harry Potter, which has characters who are more “social types” and was a book in which story was somewhat sacrificed in the interests of social commentary. This book, however, also has merits; it is just different from Rowling’s purely fictional offerings.

Rowling’s story skills picked up again when she experimented with reinventing herself with a nom de plume and a gender change as Robert Galbraith, presumably to escape comparisons with her Harry Potter books, which seemed likely to dwarf any future books. When she decided to write mysteries s/he found a métier again. Her private investigator is Cormoran Strike (Cormoran from a Cornish giant, because Strike is a very large man, and not from the similarly spelled bird of prey). He can defend himself but he is a good person.

Cormoran Strike, by-blow of rocker Jonny Rokeby, makes a satisfying detective, as he is tough, loveable, and skilled. He was a former agent in the Special Investigation Branch (SIB) of the military. Although always in pain from an ill-fitting prosthesis which he needs due to an amputation after an IED exploded when he was a soldier, he refuses to be immobilized.

Robin, who came to work for Strike as a temp sort of by accident, is another character we easily embrace. There is that slight frission that may predict a future romance but at this moment Robin is engaged to Matthew. Robin, however, has a calling. She wants to learn to be a private investigator like Cormoran, a position which she finds is a perfect fit for her particular personality.

This present case called The Silkworm revolves around a wacky author, his gruff eccentric wife and his daughter, Orlando, who is intellectually and emotionally challenged. Owen Quine, our author, writes a book called Bombyx Mori a title that reminds readers that silk from a silkworm is not freely given. The silkworm must be murdered, its cacoon stolen and soaked to separate the filaments of silk. No sooner does Quine hand over the manuscript to his publisher than the secret and gossipy contents are leaked to everyone.

Our author has gone missing, which at first seems fine as he has gone missing before. Leonora, the author’s wife and devoted mom of the childish Orlando needs her husband back and so she hires Strike. This is how he finds himself trying to “unravel” the numerous strands of this mystery over a series of snowy, slushy days which are hardly kind to a sleuth with a bum leg and a very personal sorrow to deal with.

Although the gore of this crime never becomes very real to me the mystery is both entertaining and brain teasing because of Strike and because of Robin and the author and his family. We come to appreciate Robin more as the book progresses because she, like Hermione, although beautiful, is not your typical girly girl and she has some interesting skills which make her much more than a secretary. We can imagine her playing a larger role in future books. If Robert Galbraith writes a book about another case that Cormoran and Robin set out to solve, I will read that one also.

By Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>

January, 2015 Book List

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photo from google image search

Independent Booksellers – Not all newly published books in this list. These are the books people bought from independent booksellers across the country. Sometimes “old” books become new again for a variety of reasons.

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness

The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

The Escape by David Balducci

The Burning Room by Michael Connelly

Descent by Tim Johnston

An Unnecessary Woman by Ralph Alameddine

Someone by Alice McDermott

A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante

My Struggle, Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard

The Story of a New Name by Elena Ferrante

Suspended Sentences by Patrick Modiano

Missing Person by Patrick Modiano

Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay by Elena Ferrante

Blue Horses by Mary Oliver

Honeydew by Edith Pearlman

The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

Golden Son by Pierce Brown

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth T by Chris Scotton

The Empty Throne by Bernard Cornwell

Tom Clancy Full Force and Effect by Mark Greaney

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz

Insatiable Appetites by Stuart Woods

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibin

Rain on the Dead by Jack Higgins

The Martini Shot by George Pelecanos

How to Be Both by Ali Smith

A Fine Summer’s Day by Charles Todd

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

Family Furnishings by Alice Munro

Blue Labyrinth by Douglas Preston

Amazon

The First Bad Man: A Novel by Miranda July

Almost Famous Women: Stories by Megan Mayhew Bergman

West of Sunset by Stewart O’Nan

The Secret Wisdom of the Earth by Christopher Scotton

See How Small: A Novel by Scott Blackwood

Sweetland: A Novel by Michael Connelly

Black River by S. M. Hulse

God Loves Haiti: A Novel by Dimitry Elians Léger

If I Fall, If I Die by Michael Christie

The Business of Naming Things by Michael Coffey

Mystery and Thriller

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Descent: A Novel by Tim Johnston

A String of Beads (Jane Whitefield) by Thomas Perry

Her: A Novel by Harriet Lane

The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

See How Small by Scott Blackwood

Amnesia by Peter Carey

Unbecoming: A Novel by Rebecca Scherm

Uncle Janice: A Novel by Matt Burgess

Publisher’s Weekly

Vivian Apple at the End of the World by Katie Coyle

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

The Long Green Shore by John Hepworth

A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan

Descent by Tim Johnston

F. B. Eyes: How J. Edgar Hoover’s Ghostreaders Framed African-American Literature by William J. Maxwell

Against the Country by Ben Metcalf

The Fall of Language in the Age of English by Minae Mizumura

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Honeydew by Edith Pearlman

X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz with Kekla Maggon

The Love Book by Nina Solomon

The Guard by Peter Terrin

Bonita Avenue by Peter Buwalda

The Business of Naming Things by Michael Coffey

Outline by Rachel Cusk

The Deep by Nick Cutter

Binary Star by Sarah Gerard

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister

The Nuns of Sant’Ambrogio: The True Story of a Convent in Scandal by Hubert Work, trans. from German by Ruth Martin

Compiled by Nancy Brisson

<a href=https://plus.google.com/10640005355488737390?=author>Nancy Brisson</a>