Monthly Archives: July 2015

Taking a Vacation

(This website will no longer allow me to load media, even my own pictures. I have no idea what the problem is.)

I am taking a brief vacation. I will only post about books until the beginning of August. I hope you will dive into my archives.

Nancy Brisson

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen – Book

Imagine this novel, At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen, is a smoothie you are mixing up in your literary blender. The first of our ingredients are two American men medically unfit for service in World War II, wealthy and privileged but too young to be in control of their families fortunes. We also have one beautiful young woman, Maddie, with wealthy parents but no income who marries one of the clueless pair, Hank and Ellis. We have Ellis’s dad in the recipe, a dad who was shamed by supposedly faking pictures of the Loch Ness Monster, leading Ellis to decide to go (while war is raging) across the Atlantic to clear his father’s name. We have Angus Grant, a Colonel training Commandos and acting as proprietor of the inn where the three Americans have booked rooms. We have Anna and Meg who help out at the inn and a number of other villagers. World War II is an ingredient in our smoothie. Although this Scottish village is distant from the action in the waning days of the war in Europe, residents are still required to use blackout shades at sundown, carry gas masks at all times and to shelter when bombing occurs.

This is definitely an odd set of circumstances around which to create a novel. The author combines quite a number of genres, including a war story; a small Scottish village relationships tale; a story line of bad men and good women, good men and good women, abuse and romance. We have a thread about the wages of lying, another about finding a monster; magical events and ancient superstitions which could only be believable in a small Scottish village. Then we have a commentary about social classes, upper class versus lower class protocol (both classes have rules), crossing class lines, how war levels social classes (at least temporarily). And more. That is a lot going on in one book and yet the author has control over all the characters and all the story elements throughout and is able to produce a novel that is both as perceptive as a fine literary publication and as satisfying as a bodice-ripper, with everyone, pretty much, ending up with the fate they deserve.

By Nancy Brisson

Queen of the Trailer Park by Alice Quinn – Book

Queen of the Trailer Park: Rosie Maldonne’s World by Alice Quinn has been translated from the French by Alexandra Maldwyn-Davies. Rosie Maldonne lives in France although either most of the French-ness has been translated out of this book, or France and America are not as different as we all believe. Fortunately this means that the book will not present any cultural difficulties for American readers. Rosie likes to be called CriCri and she is a single mom who loves her babies. She has a number of pet terms for her children, among them “kiddos and tots and babas”. (I wonder how the synonyms she uses sound in French?)

Rosie’s biggest problem is that she is poor. She works sporadically because she has to work when her “chickadees” are at school or day care. Luckily she found a place that will let her waitress for a few hours at a time and even sing sometimes if someone can take care of the “crib lizards” (she cracks her children up with that one). Rose lost her mom when she was sixteen and has been on her own now for nine years. She is resourceful and colorful and apparently pretty, despite her style choices which tend towards “red leather miniskirt and orange satin corset with fluorescent pink wedges.”

When we meet Rosie she is out of food and out of money and she is trying to find a friend she can hit up until her welfare check arrives. As she visits with her friend Veronique in front of McDonald’s, her eldest child, Stephanie (5) starts making a racket near the McDonald’s trash cans. She has apparently unearthed a Happy Meal toy, a princess. When CriCri (Rosie) goes over to investigate her fortunes change almost immediately. She finds an envelope full of Euros, lots and lots of Euros. She wanders by more trash cans with her “rug rats” and in every trash can is another envelope.

Of course, she realizes that this money represents some kind of pay off or dirty money, but she is so needy and, she reasons, finders keepers. Besides every day recently her mom has sent her a song that has somehow been prophetic and today was no exception. The song for the day was about money. She does, however, know better than to become a big spender. After this dubious stroke of luck Rosie’s life starts moving very fast.

Next her friend, Veronique loses her baby boy, Pierre, and then Veronique also goes missing. Rumors of murder trouble Rosie even though she wants more proof. Then she meets the two policemen investigating the case and feels an attraction to the younger cop-in-training. She meets Gaston, an elderly, wealthy and famous (and exceedingly nice) poet. She meets the mayor. The mafia gets involved and Rosie’s trailer gets trashed.

This is almost a murder mystery and Rosie is sort of a sexy, wacky, maternal, French Stephanie Plum, making Alice Quinn an oo-la-la Janet Evanovich. Queen of the Trailer Park is an enjoyable little amuse bouche or perhaps a palate cleanser between heavier tomes. You gotta love a woman who loves children as much as Rosie (CriCri) does. Rosie is a force of nature. I don’t think we are done with Rose Maldonne.

By Nancy Brisson

July 2015 Book List

Publisher’s Weekly

The Star Side of Bird Hall by Naomi Jackson (coming of age in Barbados)

Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older

Paper Towns by John Green

A New Hope by Robyn Carr

Local Girls by Caroline Zancan

No Such Person by Caroline B. Cooney

Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas (one of the best novels of the year) by Christian Kracht

The Joy of Killing: A Novel by Harry N. Maclean

All this Life by Joshua Mohr

The New World by Andrew Motion (2nd book in trilogy – “cheeky reimagining of Stevenson’s Treasure Island”)

Miss Emily: A Novel by Nuala O’Connor (Emily Dickinson)

Zero Zero Zero by Roberto Saviano trans. By Virginia Jewiss (international cocaine trafficking)

The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango (thriller)

Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola

Death and Mr. Pickwick: A Novel by Stephen Jarvis (Charles Dickens)

The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera trans. By Linda Asher

The Cartel: A Novel by Don Winslow (sequel to The Power of the Dog)


Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain

Speak: A Novel by Louisa Hall

Confession of the Lioness: A Novel by Mia Couto, David Bradshaw

The Hand that Feeds You: A Novel by A. J. Rich

The Last Pilot: A Novel by Benjamin Johncock

The English Spy by Daniel Silva

Alive: Book One of the Generations Trilogy by Scott Sigler

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

The Gods of Tango: A Novel by Carolina De Robertis

The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka

You Don’t Have to Like This by Benjamin Markovits

Mystery and Thriller

Code of Conduct: A Thriller by Brad Thor

Armada: A Novel by Ernest Cline

The Annihilation Score by Charles Stross

Among the Dead Men by Peter Lovesey

Fast Shuffle by David Black

Bradstreet Gate: A Novel by Robin Kirman

Independent Booksellers

The English Spy by Daniel Silva

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand

The President’s Shadow by Brad Meltzer

The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera

Memory Man by David Baldacci

The Cartel by Don Winslow

The Rocks by Peter Nichols

The Truth According to Us by Annie Barrows

Tom Clancy Under Fire by Grant Blackwood

Make Something Up by Chuck Palahniuk

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

The Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

All the Single Ladies by Dorothea Benton Frank

Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews

Summer Secrets by Jane Green

The Green Road by Anne Enright

Summerlong by Dean Bakopoulos

Loving Day by Mat Johnson

Ghost Fleet by P.W. Singer, August Cole, Eamon Dolan

Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams

On My Kindle for 2nd half of July

At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

The English Spy by Daniel Silva

Memory Man by David Baldacci

Compiled by Nancy Brisson

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – More to Say…

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is a gripping book. After you finish it, it still does not let you go. It gives you a kind of heartburn. This haunting story kept me awake for several hours last night during those hours between midnight and dawn when our minds often seem to want to work through the unfinished business of the day. I just wasn’t done with digesting it.

I was tempted at least twice while reading the horrific litany of abuse to which Jude, the child, was subjected, to put this book down and not finish it. I still wish, at least a wimpy corner of me does, that I could ‘unknow’ the sordid events of Jude’s little life. Is this novel based on true events? I do not know. In her acknowledgements the author thanks a quartet of men who perhaps could have served as models for this story, although the author does not say that.

I read somewhere that people are calling this “the Gay Book” but I don’t think this book has anything to do with being gay. There are gay characters in the book but this story is not about gay relationships. This book, I have decided, is about sex trafficking and sexual abuse and about the psychological impacts of these crimes on the victims.

This novel fortunately, is also about love, and what love can accomplish, and what it perhaps cannot. Again, I conclude that this novel may not be for everyone, but A Little Life is more than just a little bit great.

By Nancy Brisson

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara – Book

Malcolm, JB, Willem, and Jude are the men I have been living with for the past week. These four very different men met at a college that sounds a lot like it could be Harvard where they were roommates in Hood Hall (not the name of an actual dorm at Harvard). They became a circle of friends that even their peers envied, a four-way friendship of four men who became very successful in their adult careers, a friendship that hit a few bumps from time to time but, essentially, lasted a lifetime.

Jude, though, is the focus of this almost unbelievable tale of the very worst things that can happen to a young boy with no parents whether he is in the social welfare system or not. What kinds of psychic damage can mold the personality of a boy who is very handsome and is subjected to a level of predation than I, out of naïveté, or an inability to suspend my disbelief, found almost impossible to accept? Did the author Hanya Yanagihara lay it on too thick, or does she know someone like Jude? Does this really happen to children in America?

How does Jude ever go on with his life once he is finally rescued? What kind of life is he able to cobble together? How does he end up with such great friends? What is Jude unable to enjoy in his adult life because of his past? Should his friends have pushed him harder to share the personal details of his past? If Jude is able to open up and talk about his past will he be healed?

Don’t avoid reading A Little Life because this story shows humans at their worst, because then you will also miss humans at their best. It’s a bit long, but Yanagihara is a skillful writer. Going where Jude has been is really hard and sad, but his four friends and some other wonderful folks who actually adopt him when he is a young man, would never think of hurting him? Are they able to “fix” him? I don’t want to give away the details of this book because if you decide to read it you will note that information is doled out very slowly and we don’t get the whole story for quite a while. However, these were four unforgettable young men to spend time with and Jude may end up being as classic a character as the Jude the Beatles sing about in Hey Jude.

Rubbing Elbows with the Tea Party

I have a friend from out-of-town who comes to my neck of the woods to ice skate at the local twin ice rinks. Then we meet to play Scrabble. When she came to meet me this week she had a newspaper in tow, a newspaper called The Patriot: A Grassroots Newspaper. A headline on the front page immediately caught my eye The UN is Preparing to Manage Mass Casualty Events Under Jade Helm. I had not thought that this kind of wingnut Conservatism was popular in my central New York area. But I was wrong.

There are many code words of Conservative conspiracy (gossip, made-up nonsense, fear mongering, choose a noun) talk in this 16 page edition of The Patriot for July, 2015. It is an actual newsprint newspaper and is available for free at the ice rink where my friend enjoys skating. She also seemed shocked to find this here. The UN is an organization that Conservatives suspect is a front for a new world order and they fear that the UN will usurp America and corral us all into dense urban habitats in the interests of sustainability which, since they don’t believe in climate change, they see as a very bad thing. This is directly related to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh who demonize the UN, sustainability and Agenda 21. I have written about paranoia and Agenda 21 before.

Another term these folks like to throw around is Illuminati, again expressing a fear that there are sinister powerful forces plotting to destroy America and turn us into what? Russia perhaps. This article is entitled Ukrainians Dispossessed: Americans are next.

On the facing page is an enumeration of the powers of the Federal Government as delineated in the original Constitution and an article in which the newspaper editor asks members to be sure to elect people who will bring us back into line with our founding documents. Next article is a lengthy discussion of human exceptionalism which I confess that I just could not read.

Next up is Ready or Not…Here Comes the Antichrist! Ready or Not…Here Comes the Lawless One! “The antichrist is also called the Lawless One. Lawless… contrary or without regard for the law. Wow, you don’t have to look far for that. Baltimore? Ferguson? Businesses burning, looting, no self-control…police being shot. On a world scale…Isis beheadings, children and women being raped, murdered…we have never seen a time like we’re seeing today.” (scriptures follow).

On page 11 we have in big bold caps SOVIETIZING OF AMERICAN SOCIETY (here we are talking about preschool education) followed by THE NEW WORLD ORDER (41) THE ULTIMATE CONFLICT. This is where we are introduced to The Luciferian Church of the U.N.

I’m sorry…to me this is doo-doo-doo-doo territory and yet people also advertise in this newspaper. I do believe in free speech, but sometimes I wish I didn’t.

Visit the website

Here is their mission statement:

Mission Statement Our mission is to organize, educate, and inform our fellow citizens for the purpose of securing public policy consistent with our core values. We will unify and we will exercise through all legal means available, our power to effect the election of local, state, and federal candidates who espouse our core values but we can not endorse any candidates through the CNY Patriots website. Principals of the CNY Patriots CNY Patriots as an organization believes in the Constitution of the United States, Free Markets, Limited Government, and Fiscal Responsibility. We recognize and support the strength of grassroots organization powered by activism and civic responsibility at a local level. The CNY Patriots is a non-partisan grassroots organization of individuals united by shared core values derived from the Declaration Of Independence, the Bill Of Rights, the Federalists Papers and the Constitution of United States of America. Core Values • Uphold the Constitution • Free Markets • Limited Government • Fiscal Responsibility

If America is getting weird, don’t you think this might be part of the reason?

This is the view from the cheap seats.

By Nancy Brisson

Conflicting Freedoms

Our culture is moving forward very rapidly in some areas; zip, zip, zip, and especially in the new Supreme ruling on gay marriage. And in many ways most of us feel that it is about time. I think many of us became convinced when someone we knew who was LGBT? had to be treated in a hospital and their partner, no matter how long they had been together, could never have the solace of being considered a family member.

Many same sex couples wanted to raise a child, having worked hard and built a good life and a stable home, and yet the child could not be adopted by both partners regardless of how long they had loved each other. Situations like this also forced us to sympathize with colleagues or friends. If a couple was paired female-female, one or both of the pair could be artificially (or naturally) inseminated. But could the child ever really belong to both parties in the eyes of the law? I think that has been problematic. For couples paired male-male a surrogate probably had to be involved if they decided not to adopt or if the option was not available where they lived. And once again I am guessing there was no legal right to shared parenthood.

So what may seem like it happened zip, zip, zip to some Americans probably feels like it took forever to others. That Supreme Court decision to uphold marriage for all American couples regardless of gender (and also race just in case it ever came up again) took a certain segment of America by surprise, although it is sort of nice to think for once that “love wins”, as the current meme goes.

So, my questions are many. What do we do when granting the rights of one group of Americans seems to curtail the rights of another group, no matter how intolerant and unenlightened that second group appears?

If we separate government and religion, but live in a government that believes people are free to pursue the religion of their choice, does that mean that equal rights to your own religion suddenly do not count because of the court’s decision? How can we tell if someone’s objections truly are religious in nature, or if religion is just being used as an excuse to deny someone else a right because their expression of that right makes you feel uncomfortable? How would a system of exceptions work? Is there a chance that gay couples might be willing to steer clear of enlisting the services of someone with a genuine religious issue to wrestle with?

Obviously public servants should not be able to opt out, but what if every private business in a given state wanted to opt out? That would look an awful lot like that state’s refusal to obey the law of the land. In the case of Roe v Wade, we already know states that try to get away with taking away a legal freedom from everyone in that state simply because they say it is against their religious views. And in the case of abortion we are not forcing anyone to anything but mind their own business. How would this not be the same?

When it came to a celebration like a wedding I would want to hire someone who was enthusiastic about making my day wonderful. I would feel terrible asking someone to perform services they did not want to perform. But, again, suppose you encountered someone who did want to opt out? Will exceptions take the teeth out of the law? Would a business just put a cross (or other religious emblem) in the window so people would never be embarrassed? Would they have to go before some kind of board to get an exemption?

Equality and freedom are great concepts in the abstract, but they are hardly ever absolute in reality. One person’s absolute freedom can often run afoul of another’s. How do we offer the maximum amount of freedom to each party while granting an equal amount to both? We would need a full-time referee. Obviously that is where the courts come in, but we will have some very busy courts and people will have to wait a long time for decisions.

It seems to me that this is a thorny issue that we need some guidance on from our philosophers. I have no problem fighting against the establishment of a theocracy in America, but individual rights are a different matter and are protected by our Constitution. Fundamentalist Christians are unhappy and likely to make the rest of Americans quite unhappy unless we can strike a balance somehow.

Perhaps we have made such a giant cultural leap that some have genuinely not caught up, or maybe there are some who are quite disingenuous and are just using religion as an excuse to prevent changes they don’t personally like. I don’t know how to solve this argument over conflicting freedoms, but I hope everyone will give it some thought and discuss it with respect until we can reach some form of agreement that allows all groups to feel somewhat like they won, or that creates two camps where almost no one feels like a loser. Am I nuts? Well, perhaps that is another question for another time.

This is the view from the cheap seats.

By Nancy Brisson

Can Understanding History Help People Change?

I have learned quite a bit from Rachel Maddow about the historical underpinnings of the streaks of rebellion, racial hate, and anti-government sentiment which run beneath the mainstream of American life. I heard from Rachel about the Posse Comitatus when we were watching the self-appointed militias threaten to off the Feds in support of the rights of local sheriffs to rule over Federal law. The Posse Comitatus was a movement that arose during Reconstruction after the Civil War and wounds were still too raw to make a point of overturning these groups. And although Posse Comitatus rules were later repealed many acted as if they were still in use.

I don’t have a historical view of these modern events and that is why I love the political geeks at MSNBC. They show me that we did not arrive at this current moment out of the blue. The Civil War has left indelible marks on our nation and we have ignored the remnants of bad feeling for far too long. We no longer allow the blatant expressions of hate and rancor (at least since 1964), but the more we have tried to put a lid on these strong emotions, the more they have squished out sideways.

After Dylann Roof’s deplorable killings Rachel told me (and all her viewers) about the White Citizen’s Councils and the Council of Conservative Citizens formed in cities throughout the South. These “political entities” are where the Ku Klux Klan went to “repackage” themselves as concerned citizens doing their political duty which included an entire slate of activities designed to shore up racial separation.

Does Rachel Maddow just know this stuff; does she carry it around in that analytical brain of hers, or does she just have great research resources/people? Doesn’t matter. She is always teaching me something and for that I thank her.

When slavery began in America it was not at all new to the world. At the time, when Africa was being divided up as spoils among European nations, Africans and other native peoples whose cultures differed from Western culture were regarded as savages. This view should not have persisted but for some it has. What’s so crazy is that the very people who ripped Africans from their native lands now want to walk away from the problems that were created when their ancestors imprisoned African people and brought them to America as slaves, and that these same Southerners continue to nurture an outdated attitude and to exploit it in order to form a “pure white” city, state, or nation. Are they just the ultimate sore losers?

Our forefathers were very clear about the ideals included in the American founding documents, after all they wrote them. They were obviously clearer than we are at this late date. The only way they could justify their treatment of African slaves was by making a cultural decision that they were animals – savages, not real people. This was actually the prevalent view in the 18th century and as such Southern Plantation owners were just creatures of the culture they swam in. Northerners were not blameless either. Slavery began in 1620 and no great disavowal was forthcoming until the Civil War in 1860. So, Northerners must at least accept guilt by omission or by association.

Are we guilty for the bad cultural decisions of a less enlightened age? Perhaps not, but we are guilty for having kept those poor cultural ideas alive and for acting on them in the present. There is, sadly, no skin-color –“ectomy” that we can perform to rid us of our prejudices. It is and always has been our minds we must change.

Rachel’s historical perspective and a study, that I also heard from Rachel, or read somewhere, traced the groups who entered America in the 1800’s and who immediately moved west. This study concluded or postulated that those who moved west tended to be folks who liked a lot of autonomy and that the descendants of these almost anarchistic immigrants may be exhibiting attitudes passed down through generations that may account for that rebellious streak previously discussed; the rebellious streak that continues as the state’s rights movement, militias, survivalists, hate groups, gun activists and perhaps even those who stock-pile of weapons in case of a need to defend against their own government.

History gives us perspective. It traces things back to their roots. Will knowing how these trends began offer any insight into how we can heal all this stored anger and pain? Well it seems better than just believing this stuff is made up or just appeared out of thin air. How can we teach people who have kept their rancor close and regularly relived the injustice and unfairness of it all, that we are not trying to fight with them, we are trying to win them back?

By Nancy Brisson

Middle Ages Versus New Modern Age?

Sunday morning, July 5, 2015, in The Daily Beast Joel Kotkin wrote an article entitled “Green Pope Goes Medieval on Planet” in which he projected that if we did what the Pope proposed that we should do for the environment it would move us back into an essentially medieval society.

I am always fearing that if Republicans (and corporations) have their way with America we will become of society of nobles and serfs, except most serfs will not be farmers this time around; they will work in factories. These factories will operate without regulations or rules making the lives of American workers as grim and empty of self-fulfillment as we imagine Chinese jobs to be in factories run by a totalitarian state.

Kotkin objects to the “green movement” plan to shove people into dense urban environments, to do away with suburbs which waste resources and require extended and costly infrastructure builds for water, and sewage. Suburban living involves transportation to and from jobs which are usually not located in suburban neighborhoods. Commuting creates pollution and sprawl is unnecessary and self-indulgent and unsustainable, say those in this green movement (although I don’t believe that there is one unified green movement at this time).

Kotkin believes, as most Republicans do, that this is an overreaction to unproven claims about global warming and climate change and even to overpopulation. He objects to this as cattle-prodding us towards losing our personal space in close-packed urban centers, although this move would return wide swaths of suburban land back into farmland or natural habitats to help us feed the coming multitudes.

Interestingly enough the Republican plan to turn most of us into cheap labor “fodder” in order to keep the world supplied with goods (although who will be able to buy them) and to keep that conveyor belt carrying money to the corporate elite will also function very well to answer the needs of the “green movement” at least in the sense that most of us will have a much smaller “carbon footprint”. The green movement will not be happy, however, with the extravagant burning of fossil fuels. Will so many people being forced to live simple, feudal, therefore medieval lives balance out the fossil fuel assault on the earth and therefore slow down global warming?

Well I hate to see us go backwards at all. The Middle Ages, after all, were also known as the Dark Ages; years with very little learning, art, music, and philosophical thought illuminating the lives of most people. They were also cold in winter and hot in summer and people were often poorly clothed and poorly fed. Mercifully their lives were often short. Do we have to go back there?

Not if we have the foresight to plan and the fortitude to hold out and fight for the best deal that “commoners” can negotiate. If makes so much sense to take care of the earth that we should not have to argue about whether the damage has affected the planet or not. It is clear that we have not been salting away earthy gifts because future generations might need these gifts also. It make sense to be smart and not use and abuse the earth even if you choose not to listen to what science has to say.

We should be able to keep our books and remain a well-educated public, to keep our creative faculties intact, to maintain a cultural mélange and keep an enlightened respect for human rights and still find ways to be more minimalist; to live lightly on the earth.

If the choices are to either husband the earth’s resources or to go out in a somewhat smoggy blaze of glory (for the wealthy) and grim labor for the rest of us, then I would rather try the plan that the “green movement” has hatched for sustainability. Republicans believe that we do not need to follow a plan to live a sustainable life on earth. They believe that no matter how we plunder the earth, it will be fine because God knows what he’s doing.

If it seems to some of us as if God sort of lets affairs on earth muddle along without divine interference then we had better pick the greens over the reds (Republicans) and allow ourselves to be voluntarily herded into whatever configuration will help us live on earth for the foreseeable future as long as they only try to move our bodies, but leave our minds free.

By Nancy Brisson