Mystery at Lilac Inn

One of the first books I read this year is from the Nancy Drew series, Carolyn Keene’s Mystery at Lilac Inn. I picked it up wondering how I’d like a book I read as a child.

While the story was dated, I did enjoy this fast paced detective story. Nancy is curious, kind, brave and likable. In this book, she resolves to find the thief who took the jewels her friend Emily inherited. Emily has no living family and the jewels can help her get a good start in life.

Yet after her guardian Mrs. Willoughby claims the jewels from the bank, she stops off at the Lilac Inn for lunch with a new friend. As you might have guessed, the minute Mrs. Willoughby was distracted, the jewels disappear.

Consulting her father, who’s a sharp lawyer, Nancy springs into action. I was surprised how dangerous the story got. If you’re open to nostalgia and enjoy mysteries, check out Nancy Drew or perhaps Keene’s other series, the Dana Sisters’ Mysteries.

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Posted by on February 1, 2023 in fiction, mystery


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The Librarian of Auschwitz: Graphic Novel

I just finished reading the graphic novel version of the library in a Auschwitz. The Librarian of Auschwitz is a compelling story of 14-year-old Dita, a Jewish teen growing up in Czechoslovakia. During World War II the Nazis her rounded up her family and neighbors and forced them into a concentration camp.

Brave and compassionate, Dita risks taking care of and distributing a tiny cache of books to lend to her fellow prisoners. Reading is prohibited but it transports people from the atrocious situation they find themselves in.

One of the most intriguing parts of the story was the mystery of why the people at the first camp Dita and her parents are taken to were treated better than I expected. Dita and her parents were leery of why people I her side of the camp didn’t get their hair shaved off or why they were allowed to wear their own clothes when on the other side of the fence the prisoners wore striped uniforms and had no hair. It turned out Dita was in the portion of the camp that the Nazis showed human rights inspectors. When the tours were over, cruelty and dehumanization reigned with beatings, inhuman living conditions and for most people back breaking labor.

I recommend this compelling story with its fine illustrations and well crafted characters.

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Posted by on January 29, 2023 in fiction


Lea Ypi’s Free

This was the best book I read in 2022.

Ruled Paper

In her memoir, Free: Coming of Age at the End of History, Lea Ypi chronicles her childhood growing up when Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha was in power and through the era of Albania post-Hoxha. With wit and insight Ypi recounts how she trusted Hoxha like a grandpa while questioning her parents’ lack of enthusiasm for the government.

I was pulled in with her stories of her family obtaining and losing a prized possession, an empty Coke can, of how her family talked in code about neighbors and relatives who disappeared, of her best friend who ran off with a neighborhood tough guy.

The book continues through the 1990s when Albania transitioned to a free market economy when her mother got political, her father found himself working for a corporation and having to implement World Bank policies and when it seemed that everyone who could fled to Europe or North…

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Posted by on January 6, 2023 in fiction


At the Library

No Fixed Plans

At the library yesterday I overheard a rather loud conversation between two local people who’ve written a book and wanted the library to purchase a copy since they live in this town. The librarian at the desk congratulated them and went on to explain that the library will accept a donated copy of the book, but wouldn’t purchase it unless it had been recommended by a professional reviewer like Book List.

She went on to tell them how to get their self-published book reviewed and that the library buys about 3,000 books a month.

I was disappointed and a bit shocked that our hometown library wouldn’t support residents who’ve written a book by purchasing one. Instead it’ll take months to go through a lot of rigamarole. Clearly, not everyone in town publishes a book every month.

I think that unless the book costs over $100 or is absolutely full of…

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Posted by on January 5, 2023 in fiction


Leonardo da Vinci

We’re fortunate to have Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. Thank God they weren’t destroyed by fire or flood in the 500 some years ago. However, we don’t have a diary or narrative of da Vinci (1452 – 1519) so biographer Walter Isaacson can’t be expected to provide with certainty the details he presented to readers of his Steve Jobs or Einstein books.

It’s not that we don’t learn about Leonardo’s status as an illegitimate birth, his relationships with older painter Verrocchio, patrons de Medici and Borgia, rival Michelangelo, and assistant cum lover Salaì. But the experiences and information are presented more or less chronologically, but it’s something of a patchwork rather than a woven tapestry akin to a narrative.

The real facts of Leonardo’s life experiences are foggy at best so Isaacson focusses on the notebooks, which contain his plans for inventions, his musings, his expenses, and his musings. Isaacson also includes long descriptions of Leonardo’s artwork with comments from art historians from long ago and today. I listened to this book on CD from the library. There is a PDF that the narrator refers to throughout the

I would have preferred a narrative, but I did find the book fascinating; I did learn more about this fascinating man, who was a great artist who hated painting, who was an engineer whose inventions more often than not didn’t work, who procrastinated, daydreamed and dabbled.

I learned how fathers could acknowledge the lineage of children born out of wedlock, though Leonardo’s father didn’t acknowledge him. It was interesting that in that culture people illegitimacy wasn’t so harsh. Leonardo’s father did support him and had a relationship with Leonardo, albeit a challenging one. I did learn that Leonardo’s mother did marry and had children.

I enjoyed learning a little about how the Renaissance art workshops worked, how apprentices learned, how different painters sometimes worked on a painting. I wonder what modern art would be like if we had that.

I did sometimes tire of the long descriptions of the paintings from Isaacson’s point of view. I would rather get more from Leonardo, but there just aren’t many primary sources available.

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Posted by on May 3, 2022 in non-fiction


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The Enemy of the People

Premise: A scientist discovers that the waters of the baths, which pull people to travel to a village, are polluted and cause illness. He wants the town to spread the news, acknowledge the problem and fix it. Naively, he expects to be hailed as hero, but instead he’s loathed as the “enemy of the people.”

My take: This play is extremely preachy and the characters seem wooden. Writers like Emile Zola, Upton Sinclair and Ernest Poole do a superior job writing about social causes. I started reading because it was chosen for a book club. Then I had to miss that meeting. I figured I’d finish it anyway. If it weren’t a play and was a novel, I wouldn’t have slogged through it.

Ibsen, add some satire to leaven the play. You can still make your point with some humor.

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Posted by on April 29, 2022 in play


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Book Club: Exodus

What a lively discussion! I learned a lot about Exodus from Dennis and Michael. I enjoyed that two people of different faiths can discuss Exodus and share their insights.
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Posted by on April 28, 2022 in Book club


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Peter Schweizer’s Red-Handed

Peter Schweizer’s Red-Handed, How American Elites Get Rich Helping China Win explains how powerful government, business and academic leaders cash in with big pay offs from China. I already knew about many of the examples, like the NBA, the Bushes, Mitch McConnell and the Bidens. I also knew that American colleges will sweep problems under the rug to continue lucrative deals with China. (I could write a book on that.) 

However, I wasn’t aware of how Former Secretaries of State, Kissinger and Albright cashed in on their relationships formed when in office as they opened up consulting firms focused on China. They made fortunes bowing to China’s best interests.

Because I worked in higher education the bulk of my teaching career and spent more time teaching in China for an American college, I was most interested in the chapter on academics. I was saddened to learn that though Yale admitted Hong Kong dissident Nathan Law when he was in danger in China, they tried their best to keep him quiet on campus since their donors from China only wanted the party line discussed. Other colleges try to protect China and it’s propaganda by limited what speakers and guests come to campus. Many won’t invite the Dali Lama because China doesn’t want him to. (Hats off to my alma mater Loyola University Chicago who did have the Dali Lama speak on campus in 2012.)

Red-Handed is thoroughly researched with scores of citations. While it’s not exactly a quick read, it’s not a slog either. It’s a good book for anyone who wants to understand the somewhat sordid world of international business and foreign affairs. These folks are in it for themselves. “The system ain’t broken; it’s fixed” as the adage goes.

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Posted by on April 27, 2022 in contemporary, non-fiction


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Miss Happiness and Miss Flower

Rumer Godden’s Miss Happiness and Miss Flower introduces young readers to Japanese culture. The short novel focuses on Nona, a British girl who was born in India and whose father has sent her to live with relatives and get an education. Living with her aunt, uncle and three cousins, Nona feels lonely and out of place as a newcomer. The traffic, school, her natural introversion and her bratty cousin Belinda make life tough. It’s not till the children receive a package from an old aunt in America that things look bright for Nona. Her aunt has sent the children two Japanese dolls. This gift sets Nona on a quest to create a Japanese doll house. Her endeavor leads to friendship, creativity, and purpose.

The author provides clear explanations of Japanese culture and defines words young readers probably don’t know. The style is old fashioned. I was surprised that it was written in 1961. The narrator’s tone is like a kind, old aunt or grandmother.

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Posted by on December 2, 2021 in Children's Lit


The Library Bus

Bantam Rahman’s The Library Bus tells the simple story of Pari, an Afghan girl who’s about 5 years old. Pari’s mother drives a bookmobile to villages and refugee camps where girls have no schools.

It’s a cute story to introduce children to Afghanistan, but I’d like more character development. Even small children have distinct personalities.

The story with its charming illustrations is worth a read.

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Posted by on November 21, 2021 in Children's Lit, fiction


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