Tuesday, September 5, 2023

This week in the mitten: My Precious

True story: I was out in the boat a week or so ago, in shallow water, when something on the bottom caught my eye. Partially buried in the sand and silt I could see a shiny, metallic, ring-like object. I wish I’d thought of taking a picture so you could see how it looked, but I was too excited at the time. My heart was racing as I reached out to claim the long forgotten and perhaps even...precious prize.

This is what I got. Long forgotten at least. It's been decades since these were a thing.

Probably better this way. I don't want to start talking to myself in third person, living in holes, and clearing my throat in a grotesque manner.

Friday, August 18, 2023

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (novel #222)

Thinking back now, I can see we were just at that age when we knew a few things about ourselves – about who we were, how we were different from our guardians, from the people outside… ~ Kathy: first-person narrator


Never Let Me Go is the tale of Kathy H. She tells us she is thirty-one years old and a carer. The reader doesn’t know what this means, but it sounds like a good thing, and Kathy is proud that she’s been a carer for over eleven years, which is apparently well beyond the norm. Her long tenure is partially due to her being a very good carer.


Ishiguro uses this device throughout. Kathy uses phrases or descriptions of events that don’t make sense initially, but slowly, the reader infers the meanings and settings.


Most of the novel is Kathy’s account of her childhood, education, and relationship with her two best friends, Ruth and Tommy. In their childhood and adolescence, they are at Hailsham, a boarding school in England. They are clearly a privileged set but also closely controlled and sequestered. Their teachers, known as guardians, and the rules at Hailsham are an odd mix. In some ways strictly regimented; in others strangely permissive. The guardians are never cruel and seldom even harsh, though they are somewhat aloof.


The school seems to be preparing the children for some special role in society. When their training is complete, they become carers.


But carer…is not the ultimate role. There is another function the reader begins to grasp with outrage and horror. The children slowly understand their fate by degrees, like the reader, but unlike the reader, the children calmly accept their future and even seem to almost look forward to it.


Thinking back now, I can see we were just at that age when we knew a few things about ourselves – about who we were, how we were different from our guardians, from the people outside – but hadn’t yet understood what any of it meant.


My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars



Never Let Me Go has to be considered dystopian, though most of the time, it doesn’t feel like it. It is also Sci-Fi, though it doesn’t feel like that either. It raises some very relevant bio-medical ethics questions. I say relevant because they could be applied to different medical ethics today, and I don’t believe it is impossible that they may become relevant in a precisely similar way.


This novel satisfies the You or Me category (book with “you” or “me in the title) in the What’s in a Name 2023 Challenge.



The title is taken from the title of a song by real-life singer Judy Bridgewater. Kathy obtains a cassette tape of Bridgewater that includes the song. It resonates with Kathy, though she cannot explicitly explain why.






Thursday, August 3, 2023

Killing Floor by Lee Child (novel #221)

I wanted the open road and a new place every day. I wanted miles to travel and absolutely no idea where I was going. I wanted to ramble. I had rambling on my mind. ~ Jack Reacher


By his own admission, Jack Reacher is a hobo but not a vagrant or a bum. There’s a difference, and he takes exception. He was recently separated from the U.S. Army, honorably discharged. He served as a homicide detective. Now he lives on his severance and wits, has no home, no job, no friends, no family. He travels when and where the mood strikes him – a hobo.


He wanders into a small southern town, finds a diner, orders breakfast, and is quickly arrested for murder. The local cops are a mixed bag of competence and indifference, not clichéd southern bosses. Reacher has a solid alibi that eventually clears him, but before he beats town, the shocking identity of the murder victim gives him a personal stake in the case. In a more stereotypical fashion, Reacher, who is not a public officer or even a private detective, does not concern himself with due process, just his version of justice.


I liked him and his justice. The author grabbed my attention immediately and never let up. I wouldn’t call this a mystery novel, as some do. It was pretty obvious who the bad guys were, most of them. The suspense was more about the danger to Reacher and the few allies he made along the way. I'd call it crime/suspense. It was fast-paced, intense, and had at least one major twist I didn’t see coming.


My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars




This novel satisfies the category: the title mentions one of the Seven Deadly Sins in the What’s in a Name 2023 Challenge.


Killing Field is the first in the Jack Reacher series. I’ll probably read more. The title is from one grisly scene that an officer describes as being like the killing floor in a beef slaughterhouse.




Recap of Novels 211 - 220

Average rating of novels 211 – 220:  3.8 stars (out of 5)


211.   ★★★★½         The Blue Castle

212.   ★★★½            Legendsof the Fall

213.  ★★★★             Dombeyand Son

214.  ★★★½             Bangthe Drum Slowly

215   ★★★½             Daphnisand Chloe
★★★½             American Gods
★★★★             TheRoad

218.   ★★★★            The Last of the Mohicans

219.   ★★★               Foucault’s Pendulum

220.  ★★★★             The Member of the Wedding



Favorite: The Blue Castle


Least Favorite: Foucault’s Pendulum


Best Hero: The Man (unnamed) from The Road


Best Heroine: Valancy (Doss) Stirling from The Blue Castle


Best Villain: Wednesday from American Gods


Most interesting/Complex character: Frankie from The Member of the Wedding


Best Quotation: Ludlow was not fool enough to try to order a life already lived… ~ narrative from Legends of the Fall




Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers (novel #220)

This was the summer when Frankie was twelve years old. This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world. ~ opening lines


The author lets you know what this novel is about right away. Because that’s it; that’s the story. Like the only other novel by McCullers I’ve read, this novel is character-driven, with very little plot. It’s a Southern Gothic, coming-of-age tale.


This was the summer when Frankie was sick of being Frankie.


What adolescent hasn’t experienced that? Frankie spends most days of the long, hot summer in the kitchen with the African-American housekeeper Berenice and Frankie’s six-year-old cousin John Henry. The three spend hours talking about random things or playing cards. They are halfway through the summer before realizing they are not playing with a full deck…and that’s the depressing feeling the novel has.


Frankie’s father is a decent parent and does pretty well for a widower, but he hasn’t a clue about what is going on in Frankie’s mind.


And though she tries to explain her “unjoined” condition, Berenice and John Henry can’t really understand; no one can, so Frankie is not a member of anything.


Until her brother’s wedding, a day trip away, Frankie determines to join the couple on their honeymoon and life after that, never to return to her hometown. She even adopts a new name to be more alliterative with the happy couple. She is now F. Jasmine. For a day or so, the certainty of this plan makes her content and happy. The reader worries how hard she will take the blow when the impossible plan unravels.


The Member of the Wedding feels like The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, my only other experience with McCullers. Both novels strike a nearly universal chord: the feeling that no one understands or the desperate need to make someone understand. The Member of the Wedding is a beautiful and poignant rendering of that sentiment.


My Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars



This novel satisfies the category “title about a celebration” in the What’s in a Name 2023 Challenge.




Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco (novel #219)

(translated from Italian by William Weaver)


But whatever the rhythm was, luck rewarded us, because, wanting connections, we found connections – always, everywhere, and between everything. The world exploded into a whirling network of kinships, where everything pointed to everything else, everything explained everything else…. ~ narrator Casaubon


Foucault’s Pendulum is a satirical novel set in 1970s Italy and Paris. An Italian academic named Casaubon is the narrator, though probably not entirely reliable. The book satirizes conspiracy theories and secret societies. It opens with Casaubon hiding in a Paris museum after closing, anticipating the arrival of a secret society that he believes has captured his friend and colleague Jacopo Belbo. While Casaubon waits, he recounts the events that led to this climax.


You remember so much while you wait for hours and hours in the darkness. ~ Casaubon


Casaubon’s recollections make up the majority of the novel and concern publishing business interest in secret societies and corresponding research conducted by Casaubon, Belbo, and another colleague, Diotallevi. Together the three “discover” a plan to take over the world, though they know it is a farce contrived by forced connections. The problem is that their work becomes known to some adherents, giving them renewed conviction and resolve.


I’ll only mention one of the many other characters, Casaubon’s lover Lia; she was the voice of reason and nearly saved him.


As a satire, I suppose it is effective. It is a dizzying compendium of occult actors, secret societies, and conspiracy theorists – the main groups: Knights Templar, Freemasons, Rosicrucians, Jesuits, and Baconites. There were many more, plus a few charlatans and madmen thrown in. All complicit and all connected over the centuries. Foucault’s Pendulum has been called “the thinking man’s Da Vinci Code.”


Well I must be a dunce. I understand that Eco was satirizing, and he does a good job of explaining how people get caught up in these things – wanting to find “connections” and therefore seeing them. But for me, the story was just absurd.


There are four kinds of people in this world: cretins, fools, morons, and lunatics. ~ Belbo



My Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars



The title refers to an actual pendulum designed by French physicist Leon Foucault. It demonstrates the Earth’s rotation. In the novel, it is on display at the Musée des Arts et Métiers, France. It has a role in “the plan”.


It’s been nearly three months since I reviewed a novel. I haven’t been slacking, but this is a long novel, and I wasn’t enjoying it. That always takes me more time. But more significantly, I’ve been busy. I retired and moved six states away to my dream retirement home in Michigan. More about that transition HERE.



Monday, May 29, 2023

Final edition - NOVA this Week

I was never very faithful with this theme anyway. But that’s not why I’m shutting it down. As I post this, my wife and I have departed the Old Dominion (Virginia) and are in our new home in Michigan. I have retired, and this time REALLY retired. I retired in 2007 after 22 years in United States Air Force, spent a couple years as a Defense Contractor, and the last 13+ as a DoD civilian. Hence really retiring this time. I don’t believe I will have another career, unless perhaps as an author.


But that’s just sort of a dream.


Speaking of dreams, all my working years I dreamt of retiring on a private lake, great fishing, quiet country view, a sandy beach for the grandkids, and just a few neighbors. But I sort of thought it was probably just a dream.


Back in February this year, we closed on a house on a private lake, with great fishing, beautiful views, a sandy beach, and just a handful of friendly neighbors in Southwest Michigan. God is good!


Most importantly it’s a 30-minute drive for two of our kids and grandkids, and 2 hours from a third child and family.


So, no more NOVA (Northern Virginia) this Week. Perhaps I’ll start a new thread…News from the Mitten.




The Wanderer