Category Archives: Books

Finally – a Craft for Men!


Good morning Everyone!

Finally:

A Craft for Men.

At a Michael’s Near You!

 

Have a great day!

Nancy

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My Novel – The First Lines


Good morning Everyone!

I am working on my first mystery novel.  In fact, I’ve finished it twice already in the last twelve months and I’m just digging into my third go-round.  Naively, I thought that the major part of the work involved in writing a book came while working on the first draft.  Alas, that is not so.  I thought I’d share you with the original opening lines, and then the new revision opening lines to get your comments on the changes (if you want).  There’s also a poll so you can vote for the opening you like best.

Original:

The 2011 annual Christmas dinner for the local Webster County bar was memorable. Due to a hectic trial docket, the dinner was held December 23, much later than normal and a rare dusting of snow greeted each of us as we entered the venerable, but still elegant, Radford Grill. The party’s attendance was up that year; William Henderson, the esteemed local bar president for the last 15 years (mostly because no-one else could be bothered with it) and head of the local Democratic party for the last 20 years (mostly because nobody was better at it) had arranged for an after-dinner speaker of national prominence, an unusual treat for our normally cash-strapped local association.
Memorable achieved never-to-be-forgotten status after the national speaker (who was every bit as good as anticipated) stopped talking. As the applause died down, William stood up from the white clothed head table and went to the podium.
“I’d like to thank my good friend, Tim Tolar, for that wonderful presentation. Now, folks, it’s up to you whether you want to…”
At that  moment, Jackson Herring threw the double oak doors at the entrance to the meeting room open with a bang and strode purposefully towards William at the podium.

Revised:

Christmas, cocktails and crime are a curious combination and one that none of us – not me, not Boyd and especially not William – were ready for. When I first arrived at the Christmas Dinner for the combined Webster and Windover County bar, the most trying ordeal I anticipated enduring was coping with Boyd’s latest dating partner, Cindie with an “ie.”
I had counted myself lucky, though, when Boyd sat by me, and Cindie with an “ie” sat on his other side at the half table allocated to our firm. I would like to be able to say that I couldn’t understand what Boyd saw in Cindie with an “ie” (she had introduced herself that way to so many people that I couldn’t separate the name from the qualifier), but the reasons were self-explanatory. Boyd certainly hadn’t been looking for character or intelligence when he asked her out.  As president of the Webster County bar, William, our senior partner, and his wife Molly, along with Molly’s guide dog Sidney, were at the head table.
We had made it through dinner and finished listening to the nationally known speaker that William had persuaded to speak to our always cash-strapped local association, when it happened.
“I’d like to thank my good friend for that wonderful presentation. Now, folks, it’s up to you whether you want to…”
At that moment, Jackson Herring threw the double oak doors at the entrance to the meeting room open with a bang and strode towards William at the podium.

Thank you for your help, and have a great day!

Nancy

Bibliophilic Friday: And Ladies of the Club


Good morning Everyone!

One of the Paperback Covers for the book

One of the Paperback Covers for the book

This week on Bibliophilic Friday, I am going to share with you the first book we’ve talked about that is out of print and not available as an e-book.  It’s worth the trouble of finding it, though.  This is another one of those books that I have read to pieces – I’m currently on my third copy, although this is the first hard bound copy I have owned, and slowly but surely edging my way forward to needing copy number four.

The book is Helen Hooven Santmyer’s And Ladies of the Club.   It is the story of a group of women in a fictional town named Waynesboro in Ohio who form a literary club in the late 1860’s, shortly after the end of the Civil War.  The book follows the lives of these women from the founding of the club through to the death of the last founding member in the 1930’s after Franklin Delano Roosevelt is elected for the first time.  This summary does not do the book justice.

If I had to select two main characters for the book, I would choose Anne Alexander and Sarah (Sally) Cochran, as they are named in the beginning of the book.  We follow both of them through the ups and downs of their lives, pregnancies, marital issues, children, deaths and all of the myriad threads that add up to an individual’s life.  The richness of the novel lies not just in the vivid settings that Ms. Santmeyer deftly weaves through the narrative, but also in the way she brings her characters to life – by the end of the book, you feel like you know and are friends with not only Anne and Sally, but many of the supporting cast – Amanda, who received a degree from Oberlin College at a time when few women did, Kitty Edwards, full of spirit and life, Elsa, Sally’s daughter, a women of strong character and kindness and many, many others.  Nor are the only strong characters in the book females – John Gordon, Ludwig and Paul Rausch and Sam Travers are just a few of the males you make friends with.  This is a book that transports you back to the 1860’s, then walks you forward decade by decade until it ends.

The story of the author is also fascinating.  Helen Hooven Santmyer apparently worked on this book for over 50 years.  It was first published in hardback in 1982 and didn’t make much of a splash.  The the mother of a high-ranking editor in a publishing company picked up the book at her local library, absolutely loved it and then insisted that her son read it and urged him to release it as a mass market paperback.  It was a best-seller in 1984 in that format.  Ms. Santmeyer passed away at the age of 90 on February 21, 1986, having seen her book on the best seller list of the New York Times for 37 consecutive weeks in 1984, including several weeks at number one.

Reading this book, which is over 1000 pages long, may seem like a commitment when you first pick it up, but by the time you are through the  few pages, the length of the book becomes immaterial.

Take the time to find this book – even though it is out of print, there are plenty of decently priced paperback and even hardback copies to be found.  Amazon is a good place to look for them, and I’m sure some other sites, like Barnes & Noble, would be good too.  Then take the time to read it.  You’ll be glad you did!

Have a great weekend!

Nancy

Occupational Hazards


Good morning Everyone!

Do you remember all the news reports from a year or so ago that the National Security Agency was “mining” everything Americans write or post online in their quest to prevent terrorism?  Whether it’s true or false, I have always maintained that the banality of my e-mails, cell phones and online messages (with the exception of this blog, of course!) was more than enough to punish any governmental official who is attempting to comb them for information.

When you watch one of the many shows on TV these days that show real life murder investigations, don’t you want to scream at the perpetrator for being stupid when one of the ways he or she gets caught is because he or she googled “how to murder my _______ without getting caught” in formulating their plans on their home computer?  I mean, really!  That’s almost as clueless as was the Wicca-adherent-gone-mad out West who listed the phone number of the man she killed under the label “sacrifice” on her cell phone!  (Yes, that is a true story, by the way.)

I am working on my second mystery novel.  The first, currently called Sleight of Hand  is finished but needs more editing.  Because my plot requires a victim to be murdered by arsenic, I needed to find out where you could get arsenic, how it is used, how it is detected and what it does to its victims and how soon.  I also needed to learn whether there are any medications which are powders taken before meals.  and what kinds of crops are grown in North Dakota.  (Curiouser and curiouser, yes?)  So what do I turn to?  Google!  (Which, of course, led me swiftly to the information I need.)

With queries in my cache now like “how to murder using arsenic” and “where to get arsenic” I now am praying that no one in my household gets even a stomach virus for the next twenty years and am considering hiring a taster for more insurance!  I can just see the conversation now – “Well you see, officer, it’s like this….”  I at least hope that my searches provided a rare flash of interest to the poor NSA employee in charge of mining my data.

Maybe all those people on Investigation Discovery were innocent after all!

Have a great day!

Nancy

Bibliophilic Friday: The Miracle at Belleau Wood


Good Morning Everyone!

World War I, Alan Axelrod, Maines, belleau wood

The Miracle At Belleau Wood by Alan Axelrod

 Currrent and former members of the United States Marine Corps as well as history buffs interested in World War I or military history will enjoy The Miracle at Belleau Wood by Alan Axelrod.  As a rule, I find military histories somewhat hard to follow – I get lost in a maze of place names and general’s names and dates and lose track of where I am in both time and space.  This book, focusing on a single battle, is an exception.

The book provides the reader with a good description of trench warfare in World War I at its full maturation. It delivers a hard-hitting, clear view of the reality of terms tossed around in history books such as “the fog of war.”

More than anything else, this book is a coming of age story about the United States Marine Corps.  The author’s contention is that this battle consolidated the position of the USMC in the public eye as the leading edge fighters of the United States military, the all-volunteer force that is proud to be “the first to fight.”  The USMC, of course, needed no such consolidation in its own mind; it has always known who it is.

World War I, Belleau Wood

A Marine Machine Gun Unit after 28 days at Belleau Wood

Alan Axelrod does a good job of presenting the build-up to the battle and the battle itself in an engaging manner, but without glorifying the concept of war itself.  The book is replete with anecdotes from people who were in the battle which highlight not only the bravery but the humor men seem to find in even the grimmest situations.  One of my favorite anecdotes is the Marine officer who received a message from a French officer that the Marines were supposed to retreat as the French were retreating.  The Marine looked up and told the messenger, “Retreat?  Hell, we just got here.”  My second favorite anecdote is the exchange between one officer and another when the first officer, Major Thomas Holcomb, came forward to meet with Major Frederic Wise, whose battalion he was to relieve shortly.  As he arrived, the Germans cut loose with a fierce artillery barrage.  Holcomb looked at Wise and asked, “Is this celebration due to my arrival?”  Dead pan, Wise replied, “No…This is only routine.”

Axelrod does not shield the reader from the horrors of war in the trenches, either.  The casualties in this battle were horrific – over 120 officers and over 5700 men.  As Americans rediscovered in another war a generation  later on the shores of Normandy, in spite of their heavy losses, the Marines at Belleau Wood ultimately succeeded because American commanders and officers explained to their troops their objectives and how they intended to achieve them.  American soldiers then used their ingenuity, experience and gut determination to achieve that objective – if they were cut off from their squad or platoon, if the higher ranking officers were killed, the individual soldiers still strived to forge forward to win the battle.

During the battle, the Marines were commanded by an army general, General Harbord.  By the end of the battle, the Marines voted to make General Harbord an honorary marine, an honor he ranked personally as the highest honor he ever achieved.

One of the reasons the battle of Belleau Wood was important was that it was the first time that United States fighting forces would fight the Germans essentially on their own. FN.  The Germans hoped that they would be able to squelch and demoralize the American marines completely, gaining a psychological edge on the battlefield.  The Germans also were racing against time – the sheer number of men the Americans would be able to field on behalf of the Allies would ultimately overpower Germany, which was reaching exhaustion.  For the Germans to win the war, this last offensive push had to succeed – and at Belleau Wood, only the Marines stood between them and a break in the lines to reach Paris.

The extent to which the German troops were able to “squelch” and “demoralize” the Marines can be judged by the nickname the German soldiers gave to them – the Teufelhunden, which means “Devil Dogs.”

I was very interested to learn that among the forces on the field during the battle, only the Marines emphasized the importance of marksmanship in regular battle as well as for snipers.  Common military practice at the time was to teach troops to simply point in the general direction of the enemy and shoot, the theory being that you would have so many bullets flying at the enemy at one time that he was bound to suffer casualties.  Not so the Marines – each Marine aimed at a target when he shot, and what he aimed at, he hit.

It does take the author several chapters to ease the reader into the battle – about four – and I would have liked to know a little bit more about what happened to various people after the battle throughout the rest of the war.  The first four chapters, however, provide the reader with important background information without which the reader would be unable to appreciate exactly what the Marines did at Belleau Wood and there are references throughout the book to what happens to certain of the Marines as time goes on.

Marines, Belleau Woods

Members of the 6th – Marines gather on the edge of Belleau Wood resting after the battle

The author’s assessment of the final result of the battle is interesting, too.  Many historians credit the Marines in this battle with preventing the fall of Paris in Ludendorff’s last offensive to break through the trench lines.  However, most historians also believe that once the Marines had done this, fairly early on in the battle, the rest of the fight to take the wood, which cost so many Marine lives, accomplished little. The author agrees, and yet, as he explains, after listing the terrible tally of the battle – 126 Marine officers and 5057 Marine men killed along with many more Germans:

For the U.S. Marine Corps, this investment in blood has never been subject to question or controversy.  It was a mission.  That in itself is all that really matters.  Beyond this however, it was a test of American military capacity and American character, and the marines felt fortunate that were given the responsibility for taking and passing this test. … The reputation of the marines as America’s fiercest warriors, the nation’s elite fighting force, was forged in this battle.  After Belleau Wood, the marines claimed the right to be regarded as the American vanguard, the first to fight and if necessary, the last to leave.

This book is definitely worth your time.

Have a great day!

Nancy

FN.  An army unit temporarily “on loan” to the French had acquitted itself well a few weeks earlier as well in stopping a German advance.  As a rule, General Pershing, the overall commander of the American Expeditionary Force, wanted the U.S. troops to fight as their own units rather than interspersed between French and English troops; however, one of the Ludendorff offensives compelled him to loan the artillery unit to the French.

 

Bibliophilic Friday: Richard Fortey’s Life


Good morning Everyone!

Today on Bibliophilic Friday I am going to talk about one of my favorite non-fiction books on science, Life:  An Intimate History of the First Four Billion Years by Richard Fortey.  Nor am I alone in my admiration of this book; it recently was selected, along with another book by Richard Fortey, by the Folio Society in England.  The Folio Society publishes high-end editions of carefully selected books, and to have a book included as one of their offerings is an honor in and of itself.

Folio Society, Richard Fortey

The Folio Society Cover for Richard Fortey’s Life

I love to read about science, all aspects of it.  Richard Fortey is one of my favorite science writers because of the engaging way he illustrates his topics and the trick he has of making complicated concepts available to non-scientists.  In his book, Life, he covers the evolution of life from the first single-celled organisms through the present – and does so in a way that keeps you reading.

He has another quality as a science writer that I, as a Christian, find most endearing – he does not proselytize for atheism in his writing, something that spoiled some of the books of Stephen Gould and James Watson (the original discoverer of DNA) for me.  This does not mean that there is anything in his writing that promotes Christianity, either, but what it does do is leave me free to enjoy the science explained in the book without feeling defensive about my religious views.

(We’ll get into this more some other time – maybe – but I can study science and learn everything it has to teach me without giving up my religious beliefs, either.  Science is a study performed by man to understand the tangible world around us; Christianity and the Bible is a book given to us by God to understand the deeper, more important truths of where we came from , who we are and what our purpose in life is.)

As you read Life, you pick up on Fortey’s enthusiasm on his subject and learn about fascinating creatures – and not all of them are dinosaurs!  Even the algae mats that now exist in only a few places in the world but which once populated the earth in enough abundance to transform our atmosphere from primarily carbon dioxide to primarily oxygen can become interesting in Dr. Fortey’s hands.

trilobite

A Trilobite

Dr. Fortey’s academic specialty is the study of trilobites, animals that swarmed the oceans for over 270 million years but which became extinct about 250 million years ago.  Trilobites were arthropods, which means they are distantly related to insects, arachnids and crustaceans.  Their closest living relatives today appear to be the horseshoe crabs, which are often considered to be “living fossils”.  The horseshoe crabs are arthropods, too. Dr. Fortey admits in one of his books that he has a secret wish/hope that maybe just a few trilobites are still swimming around in the ocean, may in some deep-sea canyon, that have yet to be discovered.  I think that would be spectacular!

Horseshoe crabs

Horseshoe Crabs
From Wikimedia Commons; Photographer’s name not listed

Sorry – I digressed again. The point is that if you are looking for an informative, entertaining read that sets out a comprehensive history of life as currently understood by science, this is the book for you.

Have a great weekend!

Nancy

Bibliophilic Friday: R. F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days


Good morning Everyone!

R.F. Delderfield To Serve Them All My Days

It’s 1918, and on the Western Front in Europe, millions of men are engaged in life and death struggles in the most brutal of conditions for only inches of territory.  But in the uplands of England, an elderly station master gently awakens a solitary soldier as his train pulls into the station.

With that, you have the beginning of R. F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days, an intimate fictional portrait of the inter-war career of one David Powlett-Jones, a Welsh miner’s son who obtains a position teaching history at a private school in England named “Bamfylde” after he was wounded on the front during World War I.

This book is one of my all-time favorites, a book that I have literally “read to pieces.”  The first version I owned was a paperback, which these days is growing harder and harder to hold together because I have read it so much.  I bought it in Kindle format a couple of years ago, which I suspect has greatly increased the paperback version’s longevity.

The fascination in the book lies in many different aspects.  First, there is David Powlett-Jones himself,  intense, likable, intelligent and dedicated, his growing family  and the growth he experiences throughout the book through cycles of tragedy and healing.  Second, there are the boys at the school and their relationship with David Powlett-Jones.  Who can’t love a book with characters such as Winterbourne, the millionaire’s son who paints water colors and has his own private campground on the moor to escape to when things get to be too much or Chad Boyer, who introduces himself to David in their  first class together with a fake epileptic fit.  Third, the other teachers in the school are characters in their own rights, including the headmaster, Algy Herries, who has built the life up on the moor into a vibrant world of its own, irascible Howarth, amiable and erudite Barnaby and a French master with the carefully hidden first name of “Aloysius” to name just a few.  Finally, there is the story itself, an intimate history of a man that also provides a panoramic view of the times he lived in.

One of the thrills of reading is the way it can carry you into other times, places and minds.  To Serve Them All My Days does so effortlessly, providing you with an entertaining, satisfying story that leaves you, at the end, with new friends that live in on in your imagination long after the pages are closed.

Try it sometime!  You’ll like it.

Have a great weekend!

Nancy

P.S.  If you do read the book, I’d love to hear from you to learn what you thought about it!

Bibliophilic Friday: The Elijah Baley Detective Novels


Good morning everyone!

Sun, Summer

From ClickArt Online, by Broderbund

Take one of the geniuses of science fiction, throw in a love of detective novels, add a dash of humor and adventure, and you arrive at the three detective novels written by Isaac Asimov starring plainclothesman detective Elijah Baley and his robot partner R. Daneel Olivaw, The Caves of Steel, The Naked Sun and The Robots of Dawn.  In the introductions to the first two books, Isaac Asimov explains how one of his editors, desiring another robot story, urged him to write a detective science fiction story.  The result was The Caves of Steel.

Set in a time period long after the Susan Calvin stories and the world of I, Robot, yet before the creation of the Galactic Empire that we see the end of in Foundation, the Elijah Baley novels take place in a galaxy where man has colonized fifty other star systems in addition to the Solar System.

The vast majority of humanity has remained on an ever more crowded earth, where the sheer volume of people has caused human kind to build downward, creating huge underground cities where people live their entire lives, never seeing the sun or “going Outside” as it is called.  The fifty Spacer worlds, by contrast, are relatively sparsely inhabited.  The Spacers, as they are called, see themselves as vastly superior to Earthmen – they have completely eradicated infectious diseases of all kinds on their planets, even the common cold and have natural life spans of over 300 years.  Because of the infectious diseases, the Spacers are also terrified of infection by Earthmen.  With little want on their planets as well as strictly controlled birth rates, the Spacers do not have police forces per se the way that Earth does.  There is another significant difference between the two cultures – Earth’s people do not want to use robots, but the Spacers depend upon them.  However, at the time the novels begin, robots are starting to be introduced into earth’s economy as well.  Daneel Olivaw is the first of his kind, a “humaniform” robot – a robot meant to be as much like a human being as it is possible for  a robot to be.

In the first novel, Elijah and Daneel work together for the first time to solve the murder of a prominent spaceman on Earth, while in the second novel, the two work together on the newest Spacer world, Solaria, to solve the murder of a scientist.  In the third novel, the pair meet one more time to solve the “murder” of the second humaniform robot ever created on the most prominent Spacer world of all, Aurora.

Isaac Asimov skillfully blends the genres of detective fiction and science fiction creating characters and settings that are  believable and consistent within the world that he has created.  Each novel kept me on the edge of my seat until I could find out who the culprit was.

I would not hesitate to let any child at a sixth grade reading level  or higher to  read The Caves of Steel or The Naked Sun.  I would suggest that parents read The Robots of Dawn before allowing their children and teenagers to read it, simply because the issues surrounding sexual mores and knowledge are tackled in a frank, open manner that some parents may feel is not age appropriate for those age groups.

Still, nothing beats a good detective story for an entertaining read.  Add in Isaac Asimov’s unique writing talents and a fascinating universe, and you have a combination that makes these three novels exceptionally good reads.  Whether you are a detective fan or a science fiction fan, give them a go!  You’ll be glad you did.

Have a great weekend everyone!

Nancy

Bibliophilic Friday: Robots and Foundation


Good morning Everyone!

Robot from Print Shop Professional 2.0

I have been (sort of) participating in a WordPress Challenge called “Blogging 201,” which is designed to help bloggers improve their blog.  One of its suggestions is to have at least one weekly feature, so here’s mine:  Bibliophilic Friday.  All the feature really does is give me a chance to talk about some of the many, many books that I love.  I’m not entirely sure that you can be a writer if you don’t also love to read; at least I couldn’t.

We’re going to start with  Isaac Asimov’s Robot series and Foundation series, mostly because that is what I have been reading for the past few weeks.  Many of you are probably familiar with the movie “I, Robot”, which was (very) loosely based on Isaac Asimov’s work.  The movie, however, is nothing at all like the book.  While I did enjoy the movie, as in most cases, the book is much better.  The Isaac Asimov book, I, Robot, is basically a group of short stories tied together by the theme of an interview with robotics expert Susan Calvin that traces  the history of the positronic robots in Asimov’s imaginary future world from their beginnings towards the point where they are an integral part of the world.

One of my favorite stories in the book tells the trials and tribulations suffered by a two-man field team of robotics experts whose job is to test all of the new robots that are developed by the company.  In this particular story, they have been assigned to assemble and teach a new group of robots to handle an energy beam for earth; the energy beam has to be directed “just so”, or it will lose focus and end up frying major cities such as London or L.A..  The most important jobs the robots have is to keep the beam focused during radiation storms in space.  Well, our intrepid duo puts together a robot, who, with its positronic brain, deduces that it would be impossible for the men to have created it, given how much flimsier and less intelligent the men are then it.  Instead, the robot decides that its creator is the computer running the energy beam and that the job of all is to serve it.  It also deduces that the computer creator has given the men the delusion that they created the robots out of kindness and concern for their weakened condition.  The robot also converts all of the other more primitive robots in the energy station.  When one of the men gets frustrated and says something negative (ie., expletive deleted) about the energy beam computer, the men are locked out of the control room for blasphemy. The story goes forward from there.  It is really very funny!  The other stories in the book are equally entertaining, with just the right mix of humor, emotion, intellectual challenge and sometimes even pathos.

After re-reading #25 or so of  I, Robot, I decided to read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy.  It is considered one of the cornerstones of modern science fiction but I just never had gotten around to it.  I am delighted that I finally did!

The original three novels are the kind of books that you have to stay up until midnight reading just because you can’t wait to see what happens next.  There are two prequels (actually written after the first three novels) that are just as exciting.  In the Foundation books, a mathematician named Hari Seldon has developed a system of mathematics called psychohistory that is capable of predicting the future based upon the acts of billions of individuals.  At the time of the book, mankind is spread out over millions of worlds and part of a galactic empire that has existed for tens of thousands of years, but which is about to fall.  Seldon uses his branch of mathematics, psychohistory, to develop a plan that will reduce the period of  “the dark ages” that would result from the collapse of the Empire from 10,000 to 1000 years, and the first three books are about the plan during is first 400 or so years of existence.  The prequels are, of course, about Hari Seldon and how his psychohistory and the Foundation that supported it was developed.  (There are at least two other, later Foundation novels, but I haven’t read them yet so can’t recommend them.)

One fascinating development since Asimov wrote the Foundation novels is that something approaching psychohistory seems to be developing today.  There are people working on developing models that will use all of the data, chatter, discussions and decisions out on the Internet in order to predict future geopolitical events.  Google  and Bing already do some predicting on an individual basis – if you’ve ever noticed, while you’re writing a search query, they busily try to give you choices on what you are trying to ask based on what they predict your questions to be.

So, for you science fiction fans out there, what is your favorite Isaac Asimov science fiction book?  If you are a fan of some of his non-fiction work popularizing different sciences, let me know which one of those are your favorites!  I can’t wait to hear from you!

Have a great day!

Nancy