Information, Answers & Reviews

The Dogs of Littlefield

ISBN: 
9781476794242

Something is happening to the dogs of Littlefield, Mass.  Is someone poisoning them or does the blame fall on something more supernatural?  A cast of delightful, small-town characters suffers through this travesty as circumstance and personality pit one against each other.

It begins with the posting of warnings: pet-owners should not let their dogs roam free in the park. The signs start off politely, then denigrate into meaner advice: “Leash your beast or else.” Then a white bull-mastiff is found poisoned in the park woods.  Soon the aldermen schedule a meeting to discuss two diametrically-opposed proposals: ban all dogs from the park, or create a leash-free area for the dogs to play and have freedom.

Littlefield, long on the top ten list of best small communities to live in America, appears to be coming apart in myriad ways. Most of the teens and adults have therapists. The veneer of social niceness quickly disappears.

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. (Television Series)

ISBN: 
883929422180

The 1960’s was the time of the “Cold War” and the “Iron Curtain” Both of these terms were indicative of our relationship with Russia during those years.  We may not have been in a shooting war, but we were very much at odds with them in terms of our political philosophies and both countries were very much concerned that these differing political philosophies would spread or worse contaminate their own people. So it is surprising that one of the most popular spy shows on television in the sixties featured an organization made up of agents from many different countries with no regard to the political affiliation or beliefs of their home countries.  In fact, the organization's two top agents and their best team consisted of American agent Napoleon Solo (Robert Vaughn) and Russian agent Illya Kuryakin (David McCallum).  The series was known as “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and it was popular enough to spawn several made-for-TV movies, a spin-off series known as “The Girl from U.N.C.L.E,” and an attempted movie reboot in 2015.   

Eligible

ISBN: 
9781400068326

What do jogging, hate sex, cross fit gyms, and reality TV have to do with Jane Austen? Don’t be so 19th century. So what if Austen is rolling over in her grave. Sittenfeld has made a delightful pastiche of Pride and Prejudice, much more to my fiction-reading tastes than Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

In this reimagined version of the classic, it’s 2013 and the Bennet family has relocated to a spider-infected old Tudor in an upscale neighborhood of Cincinnati. Country club lunches, anyone?

The five unmarried daughters still ground the story although all of them have turned very 21st century. Even Mrs. Bennet has been modernized, she’s now a shopaholic busybody. However, she still remains in determined pursuit of worthy husbands (rich, upper class) for her daughters.   

Jane and Liz have flown the nest for New York City where gentle Jane teaches yoga, and Liz, writes for the entertainment mag, Mascara. She also sleeps with her married boyfriend. At thirty-nine, Jane has given up on finding a man, and has begun in vitro fertilization treatments in the hopes of having a child. Alas, no wedding bells in the offing for both Jane and Liz.

Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines

ISBN: 
024543112044

In 1965, there were two racing comedies released both of them set during the first 10 years of 1900’s.  The more popular of two was “The Great Race,” which was about an around the world automobile race; the second was Those Magnificent Men and their Flying Machines, about an air race between London and Paris in very early  and flimsy aircraft.  While I will admit there is something special about The Great Race and it certainly had more stars who were known in the United States, Those Magnificent Men and their flying Machines had something the other did not … History.

What do I mean by history?  First of all, there is the light-hearted review of man’s attempts to fly featuring the comic skills of Red Skelton mixed with historic footage of some of the more outrageous of man’s attempts and failures to fly before the opening credits.  You are not likely to see more historical film footage of man’s failed attempts to fly in another movie.  But of even greater interest to someone like me is that every plane used in the film was a recreation of a historic airplane from the birth of aviation.  In a few cases, they added some safety devices or a small change was made to better protect the pilots, but the planes did fly, or, at least, those that were supposed to fly did, and they were actually flown for the movie’s footage.

Half-Earth: our Planet's Fight for Life

ISBN: 
9781631490828

The central premise of this book is that in order to save many of the world’s species, humankind has to do something truly radical, that is, create wildlife and nature preserves over half the earth. 

Renowned entomologist and conservationist, Edward O. Wilson, presents in this book many examples of how interconnected life is in on our planet, and then makes a clarion call to save it. As someone who has actively worked for conservation for decades, Wilson is very knowledgeable.

He points out that of all the fauna and flora now on earth, we know only 20% of them at most at the species level. And much less about how they work together to maintain this web of life. To learn all these species, even were they to survive, would take at least a couple more centuries.

My Name is Lucy Barton

ISBN: 
9781400067695

If you ever worried as a child about bringing other children home from school and their possible reaction to your home and family life, this book will resonate with you. If you ever reconnected with a close relative after a long absence, ditto.

Lucy Barton had a pretty horrific childhood: dirt-poor for many years the family lived in an actual garage without running water. And not only was there little money, food, or clothes, but her parents provided little emotional sustenance. 

Strout takes you deep into the mind and heart of her protagonist, a young mother in her twenties, recently hospitalized after an operation.  Lucy is happily married with two young children whom she feels she has abandoned because of her illness. She also is a new writer, proud of her work, but still not at ease calling herself an author.

The present time of the book occurs in a New York City hospital where Lucy is amazed to see her mother, who’s come all the way from Iowa to take care of her daughter.  But this is so out of character for her, that Lucy can scarcely believe she has arrived. Neither parent has ever visited Lucy before and neither attended her wedding. At his one meeting with their future son-in-law, Lucy's father flipped out because her fiancée was German.

The Blob (1958)

ISBN: 
715515011129

If the stories I’ve heard are true there is a five-gallon bucket somewhere in the United States that contains a batch of red silicone still moist from the 1958 production of The Blob.   Supposedly it is brought out and displayed at the annual Blobfest in Phoenixville PA where many of the scenes for the movie were shot.   The Blob is one of many science fiction movies of the 1950’s that told of some unknown horror coming from outer space that endangers the world.  A lot of these were extremely low budget and featured extremely bad special effects even taking into account the time they were produced. 

The Nest

ISBN: 
9780062414212

Tolstoy’s quote from Anna Karenina applies to this book: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

The Nest is about three generations of Plumbs: Francie, the matriarch, the middle generation that consists of Leo, Bea, Jack, and Melody, plus two of their spouses, and Melody’s two girls, the twins, Nora and Louise.

At novel’s opening we find Leo, the eldest, who long ago made a bundle on a trendy magazine, and has just been released from rehab, wandering through Central Park trying to score some drugs.

The twins, who are playing hooky from their senior year SAT prep class, watch as their uncle falls to the ground. They decide not to rescue him because he will most likely tell their mom, Melody, where he saw them, thus getting them into trouble.

At that very moment, Leo was supposed to be attending a family lunch. It’s about the nest, which is the money their Dad set aside for them in trust that comes due at Melody’s 40th birthday.  The elder Mr. Plumb wanted his kids to inherit something but not a grand inheritance, nothing that would create havoc in their lives or make them too dependent on his money.

American President

ISBN: 
883929039982

Not too long ago I was reminded of one of my favorite romantic movies, The American President.  The film stars Michael Douglas as President Andrew Shepherd and Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade, a lobbyist for an ecological group.  President Shepherd is something unusual in the U.S. Presidency, though not in movies, a single father.  Shepherd is nearing the end of his first term, up for re-election and wondering if the real reason he was elected was due to a sympathy vote after his wife died of cancer during his campaign.  Now, after a little over three years of widowhood, he spots Sydney at a meeting taking place at the White House and decides he would like to ask her out.  The problem, obviously, is that he is the President of the United States.  His life is a fish bowl and there is a dignity that goes with the office that makes it difficult to have close friends.  His oldest and best friend now refuses to call him anything other than “Mr. President” even during their private games of pool.  So just how does a President ask a woman out on a date?  What happens when that date is successful and they find themselves strongly attracted to each other?

Euphoria

ISBN: 
9780802123701

This compelling novel does what few do these days—it discusses subjects and ideas with intelligence and feeling.  In this case the primary subject is the new field of anthropology presented through the viewpoints of three field scientists in the 1930s. It’s based upon the real lives of Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune, and Gregory Bateson although the novel’s ending veers far from the historical record.

What a captivating novel this is--set in exotic Papua New Guinea, where hundreds of native tribes lived, speaking different languages with vastly different cultures and customs.

It hooked me right away. Was that a baby, the Mumbanyo just threw in the water?  Nell, the character based upon Margaret Mead, couldn’t see because her husband had broken her glasses. When she and Fen (based upon Mead’s second husband, Reo Fortune) arrive back in civilization (of a sort), her eyes are malarial and she has welts over her body as well as bruises on her ankle. Two English ladies express shock at her appearance as they guzzle liquor on the boat.

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