Saturday, September 28, 2019

Dog is Love by Clive Wynne

I have not read this new book about dogs, “Dog Is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You,” which argues that they are special because of their ability to form affectionate relationships with other species (as seems obvious), but I really enjoyed the Washington Post review.
I am currently studying Aesop’s Fables and anthropomorphism in a History of Children’s Literature class so it caught my eye that the author emphasized evidence that dogs can form loving relationships, rejecting feel good anthropomorphism about one’s pet.   After all, I love my brother’s dog Chloe and I know she is always pleased to see me, but surely it is because she recognizes I will feed or walk or make a fuss over her?   Author Clive Wynne states:
I’m not saying human and dog love are identical. I’m just saying there’s enough similarity between how dogs form strong emotional bonds and how people form strong emotional bonds that it’s fair enough to use the love word.
Wynne describes an awesome experiment intended to gauge dogs’ active affection for their people.   They put the pets’ people into a box and had them call out in distress.   All the dogs seemed upset about this but only 1/3 could figure out how to open the box to rescue her owner.    But then they fine-tuned the experiment by starting with the same box but putting food in it and training the dogs to open the box to get the food out.   Subsequently, nearly every dog was able to use its skills to open the box to free its person.   Not sure that is love but it certainly intelligence!
My furry niece Chloe
Not every dog is Lassie or Timmy, capable of daring rescues, but we sure want them to be!   Do you love your dog?  Does your dog love you?

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Murder at Brightwell by Ashley Weaver

Title: Murder at Brightwell
Author: Ashley Weaver
Publication: St. Martin’s/Minotaur Books, Hardcover, 2014
Genre: Historical mystery/series
Setting: 1932 England
Plot: Amory Ames is a confident member of society who is unhappy in her marriage, although she doesn’t know what changed after she fell in love with dashing Milo.   When her former fianc├ę Gilmore Trent asks her help to prevent his sister from marrying a similar marriage to a charming but unreliable man, Amory feels it is her duty to help Gil discourage Emmeline’s relationship with Rupert Howe.   Amory does not realize that joining a group at the Brightwell Hotel on England’s south coast without her husband may damage her reputation.  Even worse, when Howe is murdered, Gil is suspected, Milo appears, Emmeline is devastated, and Amory feels she must help the police find the killer.

My Impressions: This is an entertaining mystery set in a seaside hotel, a variation of the English manor house where everyone is a suspect after a mysterious death and forbidden to leave.  If the reader initially roots for Gil to rescue Amory from her lonely marriage, it is soon clear that Milo is hiding some secret that has forced him to keep Amory at distance.  The murder itself was less interesting than the cause of their estrangement, which has not been revealed.  It is painful to see their flawed relationship but author Weaver does a great job keeping their interaction sparkling and unpredictable.  They aren’t as charming as Tommy and Tuppence but it will be interesting to how Amory and Milo develop in the series.   Amory also develops an odd rapport with the detective investigating the murder, although her investigative efforts often go awry:
In the novels, it always seemed best to keep the suspect talking.  Inevitably, help would arrive.  I really held out no hope for such an opportune occurrence, but it seemed the best course of action would be to distract [] until I could determine what to do. 
Loreen and I explored Warwick's Bookstore in La Jolla
Off the Blog: Just returned from a fun weekend in San Diego, to visit my college roommate and to cheer on Harvard Football in its first game of the season (we lost).   On Friday, I asked to visit Warwick's, the oldest family-owned bookstore in the country.  I could have spent hours there!

Source: Library.  There are now five books in the series so I had to read this before I got gammoned!  One quibble: Amory’s name bothered me as it did not seem authentic for the era but I can’t believe an author who is also a librarian would not have researched usage.

Friday, September 20, 2019

American Heiress by ?

Quelle co├»ncidence!   I found myself reading three books with the same title!
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin has been on my TBR pile for quite a while.  In fact, it is part of my Roof Beam Reader Challenge and I plan to read it in the next several weeks.  It is about a Newport heiress (think Consuelo Vanderbilt or Lady Grantham) brought to England by her mother to marry into the aristocracy at the end of the 19th century.

The other two came from the library.  The American Heiress by Dorothy Eden, set slightly later, is also about a rich young American woman destined to marry an English lord - until she sets sail on the Lusitania in 1916.  Clemency does not survive but her maid does, and begins an impersonation that will change her life - if she survives.    I may have read this in my teens but that didn't stop me from devouring the entire book in an evening earlier this week!

Finally, my classmate Jeff Toobin's book, American Heiress, about Patty Hearst was chosen by my book group this month.  I will have to hustle to finish this before the Reading Group meets on October 2nd!

By the way, you cannot copyright a title. . .

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

Title: Those Who Save Us 
Author: Jenna Blum
Publication: Harcourt, Trade Paperback, 2004
Genre: Historical Fiction
This is the seventh of twelve books that are part of my 2019 TBR Challenge, inspired by Roof Beam Reader, to prioritize some of my unread books.

Plot: In this dual time frame novel, the author moves back and forth from 1993 Minnesota where Trudy Swenson is a tenured professor of German History, who just lost her stepfather, and World War II Germany where Trudy’s mother, lovely Anna Brandt, grew up in an atmosphere of fear and repression, forced to desperate measures to stay alive and protect her small daughter.  Trudy has always had difficulty communicating with her mother, who refuses to discuss her life in Germany, and in midlife Trudy becomes involved in an oral history Holocaust project, hoping that by investigating the past she may be able to reveal some of her mother’s secrets. 

My Impressions: I am a big fan of books set during World War II, and this is a dark but compelling story with an unusual depiction of women in war-torn Germany.  Anna grows up in a traditional German home, with a father who yearns to be accepted by the Nazis, and would have bartered her for a little prestige if she had not run away.   She is a tragic character: a motherless teen yearning for affection, who becomes involved with someone very unsuitable.  Although she cares about him, his depth of affection is unclear as he is even more alone than she is, needs her but is very rough with her.   Later, she is forced to be the mistress of a Nazi officer for years.  It is no wonder she has a hard time coping with the intimacies of married life later on in Minnesota, not to mention establishing a relationship with the daughter who has dim recollections of the degradation of their life in Weimar.  Anna is so haunted by the past it seems as if she has spent her married life doing nothing but cleaning her home obsessively.
* Map of Germany from MOMA

I liked the sections set in Weimar better than those set in Minnesota, although both were extremely readable.   It not hard to admire Anna, who is spirited and determined to save her child.   However, Trudy was not a very appealing character, although I was initially sympathetic to her desire to untangle the mysteries of her past.  Ultimately, I changed my mind and decided that Anna had gone through horrors Trudy could not comprehend, even after interviewing Holocaust survivors, and deserved her privacy.  I got annoyed at Trudy for being so needy, especially when she threw herself into a very implausible relationship. 

The title refers to the devastating effect of memory; in particular, Anna’s ability to survive but not to forget or move past the individuals who shaped her life.

Off the Blog: Last night I attended a Forum at the Kennedy School of Government, featuring Clark Kellogg of CBS Sports and co-hosted by the Harvard Men’s and Women’s Basketball teams entitled “The Growing Empowerment and Activism of the Modern Athlete.”  It was entertaining to see Kellogg in real life and he discussed the role that race, gender, and socioeconomic identity play in sports, as well as his commitment to give back to the community, although stressed that it is a personal choice he does not impose on others.  One of the students asked pointedly about how to handle activism without repercussions that damage one’s career.  Kellogg knew there was no real answer except to say people can only do what they feel able to do or to risk doing.
Source: Personal copy.  I bought this book at the Brookline Booksmith in 2015 at an event where Jenna Blum was interviewing author Sarah McCoy.  It took me a while to get to it but it was a very good, if harrowing, read!

* Map from MOMA's German Expressionism Collection https://www.moma.org/s/ge/curated_ge/maps/weimar_republic.html

Friday, September 6, 2019

Six Degrees of Separation: From Masha to Hungry Monkey

Six Degrees of Separation is a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Kate chose A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles as the starting book for September. I read this in 2018 with my book group and liked it even more than his first book (despite the use of the present tense which I dislike).  Our mothers were actually college classmates at Radcliffe.
My first link is Russia. Masha by Mara Kay is an enthralling story about a Russian orphan educated at the Smolni Institute in St. Petersburg, and was one of my favorites growing up (it was briefly back in print). Smolni was an elite boarding school founded by Catherine the Great for the daughters of Russian nobility, but it was no Malory Towers and could be a harsh educational process, as many students arrived at 7 or 8 and did not see their parents again for years.  Masha is one of those hidden gems that hardly anyone read but me.  I checked it out of the library repeatedly and was thrilled when I found a sequel in the Blackwell's catalogue.

My second link is Catherine the Great. Thanks to Interlibrary Loan, I recently read Men on White Horses by Annette Motley, a historical novel about Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia from 1762–1796. I hadn’t known much about her, including that she was actually German but embraced her new country when brought to marry the grandson of Peter the Great. The book was very interesting but in the manner of an imminent train wreck: I knew Catherine’s love affairs were doomed to failure and that dreadful things were going to happen (mariticide).

My third link is Henry VIII. Last month, I went to see Six, the Musical, which I greatly enjoyed. Like Catherine the Great thinking each new lover was The One, Katherine Howard sings:

Tell me what you need
What you want, you don't need to plead
'Cause I feel the chemistry
Like I get you and you get me
And maybe this is it
He just cares so much it feels legit
We have a connection
I think this guy is different…*

Which made me think about The Concubine by Norah Lofts, historical fiction about Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife, which I read as a teen (I remember being impressed that Sister Sessions, the school librarian, was such a cool nun she could recommend a book with a shocking title). Lofts was a great writer but did any of her books end happily? Certainly not this one - Anne’s story as well as her cousin’s, Katherine Howard, ended badly. Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived!
My fourth link is Henry, which brought me to Henry and the Paper Route, fourth in the series by Beverly Cleary. This is the book where Henry desperately wants a paper route but is younger than the required age of 11. The Henry Huggins books were funny but didn’t his neighbor Ramona always steal the show? To the extent that soon she was starring in her own books!
My fifth link is paper routes, which reminded me of Curious George Rides a Bike. George helps a paper boy with his route but ends up in disgrace for making boats out of the newspapers and floating them in a nearby lake. Naturally, I took one of my parents' newspapers and tried to sail it on Chandler’s Pond in Brighton as a child, which was as unpopular for me as is was for George . . .
My sixth link is monkeys. Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father's Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater by my friend Matthew Amster-Burton is a delightful memoir about raising a child to enjoy food as an adventure. I love to give this as a baby shower gift!
Have you read any of these books?


* Lyrics copyright to Six the Musical