Tuesday, February 23, 2010

BookLook Review "The Poker Bride"

Dear Nate and Heather and book club friends, This new book will be in every Idaho library and bookstore I'm sure since it features the Boise area, the Salmon River and lots of Idaho history - so here ya go Idaho..

“The Poker Bride”
Non-fiction is hit or miss for me - most of the time the writer just makes it too darn long and too darn boring. “The Poker Bride” by former journalist Christopher Corbett is 200 pages with a couple of pictures. It's packed with plenty of historical trivia but not an overwhelming linear date by date or blow by blow account. This has an actual Wild West story woven into the time period tapestry to keep any reader interested.

Polly Bemis rode down from the mountains of central Idaho on the back of a saddle horse in the summer of 1923 at age 71. Like a tiny Chinese Rip Van Winkle, she had been isolated away from civilization on a ranch along the Salmon River since 1872. “She had never heard a radio or seen a train, an airplane, a motion picture, or electric lights.” According to the newspapers of the day she was an overnight sensation. Her story got more print than the death of President Warren G. Harding or the statewide decline in property values. Although the author admits Polly’s life story has a couple of “variations”, it is a fascinating biography.

As a young child, Polly was purchased by procurers (she called them bandits) from her starving family in rural China and sold as a concubine in Idaho. Hers was the typical story of thousands of young girls shipped to California to live in mining camp brothels or in San Francisco’s Chinatown to service the Chinese men. What was unique about Polly was that she was won in a poker game by Charlie Bemis who married her and took her up into the mountains to live a long life. Most of the girls brought from China died very young from the terrible diseases of prostitution or the hardships of slavery as a concubine in America.

The author Corbett spends several chapters describing the political and social setting of the famous gold rush which spread from California throughout the North West territories during the 1800’s. It’s tempting to list all the things I learned about this time and place but I hesitate to reveal my ignorance. Maybe you didn’t know that Chinese peasants sailed from Hong Kong to California at the very start of the gold rush and many took their stake and returned home. But many more stayed and fear spawned the Chinese Must Go movement of the 1880’s. Or maybe you didn’t know about the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which banned all Chinese immigration for ten years. Although the 100,000 Chinamen as they were called only made up 1% of the US population at the time, fear and discrimination ran rampant.

I found “The Poker Bride” to be a fascinating, but not compelling narrative history. Sometimes it’s nice to have a book you can put down.I highly recommend this book if you are interested in the history of the west, the gold rush, or just want to learn something new.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

BookLook Tribute to Dick Francis

“Silks” by Dick Francis
Today the BookLook column is a tribute to the Late Great Dick Francis who passed away on February 14th. Formerly a jockey for the Queen Mother, Francis turned to writing and produced 42 mystery novels which sold more than 60 million copies. Not bad for a second career. Born October 31st (born and died on a holiday!) 1920, he wrote almost a book a year featuring horses and race tracks. His books occupy two shelves of honor in our den, and have traveled with family and friends all over the world for vacation reading. His first novel “Dead Cert” is the place to start your reading if you are a newcomer. “Even Money” came out in September and was reviewed in a past column. I can’t wait to read “Crossfire” which is scheduled for release later this year.

“Silks” by Dick Francis was written with the help of his son Felix. Over the age of 85, after writing more than 40 books, winning the Edgar Award three times for best novel, and many more awards to list, he was entitled to a co-writer. I am actually a fan of co-writers for old authors who are over-the-hill, past their sell-by date, ancient, and prone to wander. I wonder who will help me with this book review column when I begin to do some mind meandering…?

“Silks” does not disappoint Dick Francis fans. It contains all the important elements of his entertaining storytelling style. The good guy is really good, the bad guy uses a baseball bat to beat up people so he is really bad, and the victims are pitiful. There is plenty of race course action at Sandown which includes fighting, falling and felony. There is also plenty of courtroom action at London’s Old Bailey which also includes fighting, falling and felony. The fighting is a bit more graphic than some past Francis novels and has a real menace behind it at times. The good guy falls off of horses and may be falling in love with the lovely leading lady. The felonies involve illegal betting, illegal intimidation, illegal beating and the very illegal stabbing with a pitchfork.

Geoffrey Mason, our hero, is a British barrister who is also an amateur steeplechase jockey. When one of his fellow riders Steve Mitchell is accused of murdering another jockey by driving a pitchfork through his chest, he calls Mason to defend him. Threatening phone calls warn Mason that he must lose the case and be sure that Steve Mitchell is convicted of murder. The evidence is overwhelming and Mason struggles to find any clue as to who the real killer could be. The intimidation escalates as he is attacked and his father threatened. There is a sense that this is a real problem in the justice system today and an important part of the story.

Of course this is a Dick Francis so justice prevails during a Perry Mason courtroom drama, but it is a satisfying end to a frustrating situation. If you have not read any novels by Francis you should start at the beginning then read “Straight”, “Reflex” or “Risk” which were written earlier when the author was at the top of his game. As one of his loyal fans, I will wait with great anticipation to read his final book “Crossfire” and I know I will love it and lend it out from my bookshelf to those who need a good vacation read.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Finn Christopher

Finn came home after almost 2 weeks in the hospital and we are very happy to have him to hold and admire. His dad is just one of his fans.

You can see how far Fabulous Finn has come in these 12 days. From breathing on a respirator due to his collapsed lung and pneumo thorax (air bubble in the chest) to breathing well on his own.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

BookLook Review "The History of Love"

“The History of Love”

After a few years, you start to look alike. I’m talking about husbands and wives. Unfortunately it started for us on our wedding day while eating lunch with our families a sweet little old lady referred to me as Mark’s sister. Humorous true story although at the time I didn’t think it was as funny as everyone else around the table. Not only can you look alike, but spouses may start writing alike if they aren’t careful. “The History of Love” is a wonderfully imaginative book written by Nicole Krauss. It would have seemed more fresh and original if I hadn’t so recently read her husband’s book “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” which also featured an old locksmith and a young teen searching for father-clues in New York City. I listened to Krauss’s novel on CD and would highly recommend this venue with several superb voices to enhance the literary experience.

Leo Gursky wrote a book after falling in love with Alma at age ten before the Nazis invaded Poland. They both survived and escaped to America but were forever separated. Sixty years later he still yearns for his lost love and wonders what happened to the book he gave to a friend for safe keeping. Leo has a dark sense of humor about old age and loneliness. His fear of dying unseen causes him to draw attention to himself in public by spilling coffee or buying juice he doesn’t want, just to be seen. He even answers an ad for a nude model to be sure that he doesn’t leave the world unnoticed. The actor reading “The History of Love” pronounces Leo’s Yiddish words with a Bronx accent swimming in spittle. A picture emerges for the listener of a balding man with wispy white hair shuffling down the sidewalk wearing a short-sleeved plaid cotton shirt tucked haphazardly into pants that are now too large for his dwindling frame.

The other main character is fourteen year old Alma who was named for the character in Leo’s lost manuscript. She struggles to help her disturbed young brother and her lonely mother. When the family lost their father, they were cast adrift without an anchor. Young Alma discovers her name in a Spanish novel her mother has been hired to translate and embarks on a quest to bring the author and her mother together.

The complete cast includes characters spread across time and continents caught up in the tale of humor and sadness, and love and injustice. How could life be so unfair? This is the universal question Krauss brings to her unforgettable concluding scene. Although there are style and story similarities between the author-spouses, I thought this was a brilliantly written book – for better or worse.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Why won't males ask for directions?

He was obviously lost, but like all males wouldn't ask for directions. He was standing in a yard down below our neighborhood and Mark took his picture. Since we live at the foot of the mountains where a huge elk herd occasionally moves down from higher pastures in the winter, we have seen elk on the hillside behind us - but not one just down the road. This big boy ended up with a tranquilizer dart courtesy of the Division of Wildlife Services and won a free trip out of town.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Masonic Temple Pictures - Dan Brown Visited Here

The exterior of the Masonic Temple. There are big lions on the sides but out of the picture. It is 3 stories tall and they used to have big dances and drinking parties outside on the rooftop tiled dance floor during the 1920s until I don't know when.I'll bet the residents at the governor's mansion across the street loved that!

I thought this prayer altar found in every ceremony room was interesting. The masons require members to believe in a Supreme Being but worldwide membership means that can be any Being.

This porch "scene" from the colonial room shows the outside of a house. Our guide said since they wear hats and it was impolite to wear hats indoors back then, the porch was used. A rough stone sits on one side, a smooth on the other to symbolize the change that occurs after applying the principals of the masons.

Each of the ceremony rooms has these stairs with the 12 steps of masons - interesting 12 step program. The rooms are beautifully painted - 1920's style.

They have a stage with hand painted drop scenery by a famous artist that is priceless and includes scenes like a garden scene. I'm not sure how they use them for their ceremonies.

The big neon G is the oldest original neon sign in Utah. The G stands for God and geometry and is a prominant masonic symbol.

I was invited to drive some of the Jr. Art Guild students from the museum for a field trip to the Masonic Temple in Salt Lake City. It was a very interesting tour! The masonic lodge here is the smallest in the USA due in part to past LDS church discouraging people joining. They support the local Shriners hospital and do a lot of service. The temple was built in 1925 and is a virtual time capsule since they have not changed anything. It doesn't even have air conditioning so they shut down for the summer and oil the wood and clean the very detailed trim painting.A lot of shows and movies are filmed there like "Touched by an Angel" and "The Crow". This temple is rated by the masons as one of their top ten since it has themed rooms which is unique. There is an Egyptian room, a Colonial room, etc.and some wonderful paintings.To visit their site and see and read more just go to saltlakemasonictemple .org or google it. If you are a fan of Dan Brown books you will enjoy it even more.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Book Look Review "The Piano Teacher"

“The Piano Teacher”
It’s almost Valentines Day. You should get your sweetie pie a book! I was diligently scanning the love card section at the store and noticed lots of women searching for just the right card. And there’s not a man in sight. I’m not saying all men wait until February 14th and stop by the grocery store on the way home from work to quickly grab a card, swing down the candy aisle and finish at the checkout with flowers smelling faintly of the produce section…Oh, come on! At least steer your cart over to the book shelf (it’s that tiny dusty area by the magazines) and add something that will last more than one day.

“The Piano Teacher” by Janice Y. K. Lee is a popular new novel about love and war. She writes about a common theme placed in an uncommon time and location. I have mixed feelings about her work of historical fiction and can’t give it a whole-hearted (that was an irresistible link to the valentines theme) endorsement. The novel begins in the early 1950’s in Hong Kong. The piano teacher, Claire Pendleton arrives with her new husband from England. I found her to be a very weak and unlikable main character. So I chose Will Truesdale as my designated main character who was equally flawed but rose up on occasion to at least make a decision rather than just be swept along in a tide of apathy and despair. When these two begin an affair it seems they deserve each other in some pathetic way.

The author Lee flips us between the 1940’s as Hong Kong is occupied by the Japanese and Will was caught up in another affair with the beautiful Trudy Liang, and the 1950’s when he snares the newcomer Claire. There seems to be an authenticity to the story of the misery of war in Hong Kong and that is honestly the main thing that kept me reading. The most interesting plot hook is the mystery of the hidden Crown Collection and the dramatic answer revealed at one of the colony’s hypocritical society parties.

Gentlemen you can’t buy “The Piano Teacher” at the grocery store since it is too new. Go out today to a real book store and choose something she might enjoy with her lovely card, flowers and candy. I am also not sure that this would be the right book for her unless she reads a lot and is tolerant of the infidelity theme. Maybe not the valentine’s message you want to send. If you need serious help selecting just the right book for your honey, you can contact me and I will try to give you some safer and happier reading suggestions.