Aug 202014

11-22-63The premise is a standard trope of science fiction: time travel.  And each time the main character, Jake Epping, closes his eyes and taps with his toe in the back of a dark closet to find the rabbit hole that will transfer him from the year 2011 to 1963 you have to be much better than me at suspending disbelief and suppressing a giggle.  Nevertheless, once you’ve cross the threshold, you will find yourself fully enveloped by Stephen King’s prodigious talents as a master story teller.  Epping has the chance to go back in history and uses his opportunity to undo injustices he knows will be forthcoming.  He saves a friend’s friend from a crippling hunting accident and protects a work colleague from a father so abusive that in the late 1950s the drunken father murders his wife and most of his children with a sledge hammer.  Then Epping takes on Lee Harvey Oswald with the aim of preventing the assassination of JFK.  The reader is asked to overlook the fact that Epping’s primary means of preventing bad stuff from happening is to murder criminals before they commit their acts.  Hmmm.  If you get that far, then you can wrestle with what additional impacts a change in the past will have on the future and whether it makes more sense to devote yourself to the woman you love or, because there really isn’t any other option in this book, protect President Kennedy and the future of the world.

Aug 202014
Still warm, all ready for dipping in white bean hummus.

Still warm, all ready for dipping in white bean hummus.

Here is a wheat combine.  Sue and I got to ride along for the early August wheat harvest on the farm of Karen and Joe Sablyak. Crawford County, PA.

Here is a wheat combine. Sue and I got to ride along for the early August wheat harvest on the farm of Karen and Joe Sablyak. Crawford County, PA.

Aug 112014

0905-All-the-Light-no-carsTwo parallel stories.  In France, a teenage girl, blind since the age of five, has her life turned upside down when the Germans invade Paris.  She flees with her father to Saint Malo on the coast where she lives under German occupation in further darkness when, for her safety, she is secluded in an uncle’s house.  The uncle, a veteran of WW I, suffers from PTSD and never leaves the house.  Her father, as any solo parent of a blind girl would, does everything in his power to protect her.  He constructs miniature wooden models of Saint Malo in case his daughter ever needs to learn to navigate its streets.  Concurrently, a German orphan, also a young teen, faces a grueling life in the mines when he reaches the age of 15.  Except, he is immensely adept at working radios, yet another means of communicating with the world without really seeing.  His skills are so great he is drafted into the Nazi army, where he blindly follows orders, but worries that the orders are illogical, if not immoral.  The book is aptly named.

Jul 212014

SHAKE-OFF-cover-660x1024The protagonist, he goes by several aliases, but Michel Khoury appears to be his given name, is a former Palestinian refugee from Lebanon.  His parents were murdered during the Israeli-sponsored massacres in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps.  Stateless and without family he is fathered by a friendly Palestinian who in time teaches Michel the tradecraft of undercover work, but with a twist.  The goal of these Palestinians is to undercut the piecemeal Oslo peace negotiations of the 1990s with a truly comprehensive peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis.  Michel couriers secret messages around the world until he makes the one mistake no spy should ever make.  He falls in love with a British girl.  Khoury’s slow awakening to the entanglement of high stakes espionage he has entered, and how he has unwittingly dragged in his first real love, provides terrific suspense without ever dropping into polemic.  Remarkably, this book eschews diatribe about middle eastern politics while embedding in one of the great political feuds of our time.

Jul 132014

serviceThe war after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq consists of 500,000 broken soldiers, men and women returned to the United States suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI).  Five hundred thousand with invisible wounds to their brains.  Asked to fight in invisible wars that most Americans failed to track, they served two and three rotations against enemies they could not find, but whose specialization in guerilla tactics ensured that our soldiers spent many of their days searching for improvised explosive devices.  They watched their closest friends blown to small pieces, or had their own heads rattled against the roof of an exploding humvee.  And when they could not function any longer they were sent home.  The result, in addition to an ever-increasing rate of post-combat suicide, has been a half million cases of severe depression, unrelenting insomnia, flashbacks, anger, guilt, uncontrollable rage, and anxiety.  This book reduces the painful numbers to a handful of real people struggling to reassemble their lives.  Their plights are heart breaking in large part because Finkel’s writing is so delicately caring and insightful.

Jul 062014

Tears-of-Autumn-McCarryOK, it’s a period piece Spy Novel.  Think Ian Fleming.  Sean Connery.  In this caper, Paul Christopher works for the CIA and he speeds around the world piecing together the hidden culprits behind JFK’s assassination.  Christopher’s hypothesis is Oswald was hired in retaliation for American attacks on prominent Vietnamese families.  I’m not much into Kennedy conspiracies — there seem to be an bottomless well of them — but the book rings true mostly because its author was a spook himself in the CIA.  The craft of 1960s Cold War spying appears realistic even if from our current vantage point it feels like it is being rendered in black and white with a cheesy saxaphone soundtrack.  Vietnam, the Congo, Rome, and Paris are all atmospherically accurate — you can just about taste the Parisian drizzle and can hear the street calls in Saigon – and the characters are about as authentic as any on Mad Men.  I’m not sure anyone who was born after 1980 would get  this book, but if you can recall the 1960s, Tears of Autumn is a nice trot down memory lane. Tears of Autumn is the second novel in the Paul Christopher series.

Jun 272014

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Ever since returning from France and tasting all their wonderful preserves I’ve been determined to see what I can do at home.  So far, and it’s just strawberry season: 16 jars of strawberry jam, 4 of strawberry syrup, 4 rhubarb jams, two pies, two strawberry-rhubarb crisps, and three pounds of frozen strawberries.  Looks like cherries are next!photo1 (7)

Jun 222014

memorialWhen Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and tens of thousands of residents were trapped in a city without electricity, water, sewage, law, government, shelter or near-term prospects for rescue, hospitals were among the hardest hit.  Medical staff worked around the clock to care for patients without working ventilators, regulated IV drips, air conditioning, sterilized equipment, or working toilets.  Exhausted doctors needed to make new triage lists daily, not only making life and death decisions regarding whom to treat, but also which patients were most likely to survive evacuation lifts when they did arrive.  Should the terminally ill be evacuated first or last?  Should those closest to dying be rushed to the front of the line when a helicopter arrived or could a doctor make a judgement that death was likely in any case and give the space to someone whose future looked more promising?  Promising in what way?  Most likely to live?  Greatest number of dependents?  The brightest outlook for high quality of life?  Determined how?  Among the hospitals swamped by Katrina was Memorial where after five days of chaos a doctor and two nurses were accused of euthanizing patients.  While Sheri Fink does a fine job of raising ethical issues about end-of-life decisions, her book is tedious.  The first half describes the lives of the entrapped and the second covers the indictment and trial and every tiny piece of evidence against the accused doctor.  Alas, most of the evidence has been covered in the first half of the book and reading about it for a second and third time in legalese does nothing to enhance its power.