A Town Like Alice, by Nevil Shute

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Jean Paget is a young woman living in England after WWII who is left a great deal of money by a distant relative. She wants to use the money to build a well in a village in Malaysia that was so important to her during the war. She tells her solicitor, who is the trustee, why she wants to do this, and this forms the first part of the book as her life as a prisoner of war. 

She was working in Malaya at the time the Japanese invaded and was taken prisoner together with a group of women and children. The Japanese marched them from one village to another rather than take responsibility for them. None of the villages would take them. During this time Jean met an Australian soldier, Sergeant Joe Harman, also a prisoner.

Harman steals five chickens from the local Japanese commander to help the women. The thefts are investigated and he takes the blame full blame to save Jean and the rest of the group. He is beaten, crucified, and left to die by the Japanese soldiers. The women are marched away, believing that he is dead. This happened in the very village where Jean, after the war, wanted to go back to to give them a well. 

After her return to the Malaysian village she discovers that Harman had survived his ordeal and returned to Australia. Her trip to Australia takes her to a town she knew Joe had lived before the war called Alice Springs. They eventually find each other and the book ends with their effort to build a special town and place to live.

This book was first reviewed in 2009. It was first read in 2005. It is a short book and easy to reread and gives a little different message each time. issue of racism. The books characters are English, Australian, Malaysian, Japanese, and Aboriginal. Racism is clearly an issue but not the books message. 

Nevil Shute upper left.  Jean searched for  Harmon when she went to Australia and went to the town of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. She was impressed with the town. Picture shows the town and the spring it was named for.  

Quotes by Nevil Shute

“People who spent the war in prison camps have written a lot of books about what a bad time they had, she said quietly, staring into the embers. they don't know what it was like, not being in a camp.” 

“Men' s souls are naturally inclined to covetousness; but if ye be kind towards women and fear to wrong them, God is well acquainted with what ye do.” 

Falling Leaves, The Memoir of a Unwanted Chinese Daughter, by Adeline Yen Mah

1st Reviewed in 2009

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This book is a look at a culture, a country, a family and relationships that just didn't work for any of the children, especially for one young girl, Adeline Yen Mah. She was born in 1937 and grew up in a wealthy Chinese family. Her mother died when she was born and her new mother was Eurasian, with her own children.

Her respect for and commitment and effort to be part of a family, presents an insight into the culture. Her relationships with her siblings as a young girl, and later as a successful women, added a dimension to the cruelty she suffered from both of her parents. 

This Chinese proverb described her life. "When leaves fall down they return to their roots". It was hard to understand why she would have even wanted to return to her roots. It seemed that the real roots in this family was her strength. 

The time setting was in 1949 during the revolution in China. The impact of Mao on society was insightful and interesting. Her father's success under both the old and a new government in Hong Kong suggested that times might get better for the family but it didn't get better for Adeline. She did not find love with either her dad or her stepmother or really with any of her 6 brothers and sisters. An aunt offered her love and encouragement to leave and she did and came to the United States where she was able to have a happy marriage of her own. It was her insights and her successes, seemingly against all odds, that was fascinating. 

A well told story about a young girl and a successful woman who, after it all was completed, the only strength found was in her. 

This book is one that I didn't want to put down. It left me anxious to find out what was coming

Quotes  by Adeline Yen  Mah

“Please believe that one single positive dream is more important than a thousand negative realities"

“I read because I have to. It drives everything else from my mind. It lets me escape to find other world."

“But you can vanquish the demons only when you yourself are convinced of your own worth.” 
 

 

Obsessive Genius, the Inner world of Marie Curie, by Barbara Goldsmith

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The title "Obsessive Genius" refers to many different sides of Marie Curie's life. Some may have considered her story to be somewhat of a feminist message but the title describes the "person", not just the woman behind the research and the life that went with it. 

Marva Salomee Sklodowska, Marie Curie, was born in Poland and a naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity.  She went to Paris and got her degrees at the Sorbonne and then spent most of her life in France. Her singular passion was for her work but that changed when she met Pierre Curie. Her obsessive passion for work, studies, research, and her husband, were complex and present a very interesting woman. Their first Nobel Prize in 1903 was a mutual effort but her second came later in her life and was clearly something that she could not be denied. She was denied the opportunity to co-accept the first award and sit in the audience. She had done much if not most of the work.

Like the book Einstein, by Walter Isaacson, this book lets you see a life through the lens of a particular science. In both cases you learn about both the person and the science. This type of biography lets you see the historical events you thought you knew all about very differently through the lens of a particular person and the science that fills their life. The book is well done and well worth reading.

Quotes By The Author & Marie Curie

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"The rare female scientist was depicted as masculine, coarse, ugly, careworn and industrious but making no significant contribution.- Barbara Goldsmith

 

 

”Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas"-Marie Curie 

"Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less" - Marie Curie  

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"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained." - Marie Curie

 

 

 

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time, a Novel by Mark Haddon

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The book portrays the point of view of a 15-year-old autistic boy, Christopher. It did it so well that I was tempted to rate the book lower, just based on that, because it was implied the viewpoint was so accurate. It leaves you feeling that you might just understand what autism really is. 

My own experiences suggest that this boy's emotional range and response is just one vantage point. I think it is better to just say that this is not a book about Asperger's really.

It is just a good story about being an outsider, about seeing the world very differently. The author is not an expert on autism spectrum disorder or Asperger syndrome.

In some cases the incidents that take place in the search for the dog are funny. At the same time the focus on emotion and feelings are so well done that, rather than funny, it might be said that it is chilling.

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Quote by Mark Hadden

“I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them” 

“On the fifth day, which was a Sunday, it rained very hard. I like it when it rains hard. It sounds like white noise everywhere, which is like silence but not empty.” 

“All the other children at my school are stupid. Except I'm not meant to call them stupid, even though this is what they are.” 

“I like dogs. You always know what a dog is thinking. It has four moods. Happy, sad, cross and concentrating. Also, dogs are faithful and they do not tell lies because they cannot talk.

Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick

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Nathaniel Philbrick has read the novel Moby-Dick more than a dozen times, so it seems believable that he says he thinks this is the greatest American Novel ever written. Too bad Melville didn’t get this feedback during his lifetime. Melville admired Nathaniel Hawthorne and dedicated the book to him. Hawthorne and other writers of his day did see the book as masterpiece, but it didn’t outsell even his earlier books.

Philbrick’s book seeks to show why Moby-Dick has been so enduring. There is much that resonates with the world when it was written and even still today.

The civil war was yet to break out, but the books crew was so diverse that the respect for racial diversity stands out. Ahab, Pip, and other characters were inspired by a 7-set volume of Shakespeare’s plays that came into Melville’s possession just before he started writing this book.

Philbrick sees, not just ongoing relevance ,but a level of understanding of human relations. Melville is praised for his skill in getting reality to show up on the page. He explanation of how Ahab takes control of his crew and gets them to buy into his own plan has lots of real world comparisons.

Even though there are ample events that have symbolic relevance it is interesting to have this author bluntly tell us that the white whale is not a symbol. He says it is “as real as you and I. He has a crooked jaw, a humped back, and a wiggle-waggle when he is really moving fast”.

I have read Moby Dick twice but wish I had read this book first. 

Quote by Nathanial Philbrick

“Melville's example demonstrates the wisdom of waiting to read the classics. Coming to a great book on your own after having accumulated essential life experience can make all the difference.” 

Why Read Moby-Dick?
By Nathaniel Philbrick

Joyland by Stephen King

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Devin just went through a bad breakup, and to get away, he takes a summer job at a carnival named Joyland. It is located along the coastline of North Carolina and is run by a strange old man who embodies much of an old-style carnie era.

Devin shares a room with a veteran worker, in his late 50’s, that knows some of the secrets of the area, but even so he can’t explain why so many young women have turned up missing around Joyland.  One murder still lingers as the ghost of Linda Gray, who was thrown from a car on the tracks that ran through the tunnel of love.

Yes, the park is haunted, and Linda even shows up in photographs.  Devin finds the ghost mystery to be a good distraction from the girl he left behind, and really tries to get to the bottom of what happened with Linda Gray’s murder.

He learns the trade mojo from some carnie masters and eventually he finds a new relationship with a worldly older woman. He excels as he cheers up the kids posing as a huge fury dog.

The loss of the old-time carnie style is one focus that King weaves into this novel. The manipulation of wiling customers seems to be sincere and honest because of the old established rules of the game. The comparison to the Disney approach is obvious. King may have used the changes in this industry to be symbolic of the changes form old style pulp fiction approaches to writing?

 Eventually the villain is unmasked, and o yes there are evil clowns.

Quotes by Stephen King

"When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.”

"We stopped checking for monsters under the bed when we realized they were inside of us"

"Nobody likes a clown a midnight".

Joyland (Hard Case Crime)
By Stephen King

Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

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Gary Paulsen introduces his book, Hatchet, saying: “Hatchet came from the darkest part of my childhood. I don’t think I ever realized that before. But now, as we celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the book’s publication, it is what I see the most clearly. The three most important parts of my life are reading, the woods, and writing and they came together in Hatchet”.

Brian Robeson was a 13-year-old city boy when he spends two months alone in the Canadian wilderness. He was on the way to spend time with his father in a Cessna 406 as the only passenger. The pilot did show him how to steer but then had a heart attack and died.  Brian spends hours steering the plane and trying to determine what to do.  He eventually crashes, and the plane sinks into a lake in a remote forested area. His mother had given him a hatchet before he left, and he had attached it to his belt. It was the only thing he had other than the clothes on his back after the crash.

It is a survival story where he builds a shelter and learns, through trial and error, how to find food, build a fire, and much more. His way of looking at what is around him and how to face the challenges, by learning from his mistakes, are the big lessons that the story teaches. 

The plane had crashed through the forest and sunk into the lake but almost two months later, after a tornado hit it the lake, the plane surfaced with its tail sticking out of the water. He has mixed feelings when it happened.  He knew he needed to get into the plane and find a survival pack, but he also knew that somehow this would change who he had become. It would help, but that very help would reduce his reliance on what he had learned from the environment.  He recovers the survival kit from the plane and faces much more than he expected in the plane.  The survival kit contains a "Emergency Transmitter” which appears to not work but even, so it is switched on.  Even before he can prepare a meal from the freeze-dried banquet, a plane who has heard the transmitter lands on the lake to rescue him.

The experience taught him many lessons. Waiting, thinking and doing things right was a critical lesson as was knowing that feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t help.  

His rescue came 54 days after the plane had gone down.

Quotes about Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen

“the most important rule of survival, which was that feeling sorry for yourself didn’t work.” 

“Patience, he thought. So much of this was patience - waiting, and thinking and doing things right. So much of all this, so much of all living was patience and thinking.” 

“Not hope that he would be rescued--that was gone. But hope in his knowledge. Hope in the fact that he could learn and survive and take care of himself. Tough hope, he thought that night. I am full of though hope.” 

Hatchet
By Gary Paulsen

Thinking in Pictures, My Life With Autism, by Temple Grandin

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Dr. Temple Grandin is a well-known professor of animal behaviors at Colorado State University. She describes her autistic mind as one that does not think in words like most people. She says it is like a video library where memory is stored in pictures that she can retrieve as images, from her own memory, and even combine and reshape them

Rather than using social skills, she relies on logic and rules she has learned along the way to guide her behavior. Because human’s relationships have been challenging she has especially enjoyed, and made major findings by using her unique empathy, working with animals. She especially loves working with cows and originally this book was going to be titled “A Cow’s Eye View” instead of “Thinking in Pictures”.  Cows move from yard to yard and to truck by chutes. She found that a squeeze machine calmed the cows and then learned that it worked for her, so she made one that she uses daily to calm herself. This approach has revolutionized the livestock business, and today almost half of the cattle in North America are handled in a center track restrainer system that she designed.

Grandin’s goal has been to improve animal welfare and “Thinking in Pictures” has been, for her, a key to doing just that. The information she shares about herself gives insight into the value of having the right teachers and thinking past school to a career that will be the “right career niche”.

In 2017, Grandin was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame

Quotes by Temple Grandin

“Children who are visual thinkers will often be good at drawing, other arts, and building things with building toys such as Legos.”

 “I get great satisfaction out of doing clever things with my mind, but I don’t know what it is like to feel rapturous joy.”

 “My thinking pattern always starts with specifics and works toward generalization in an associational and nonsequential way.

 “I think using animals for food is an ethical thing to do, but we've got to do it right. We've got to give those animals a decent life and we've got to give them a painless death. We owe the animal respect.” 

 

The Call of The Wild, by Jack London

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FIRST PARAGRAPH: “Buck did not read newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewater dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal”

Like most of Jack London’s writing, his own life was as dramatic as the fiction he wrote. The Call of The Wild was an instant sensation from the moment it was released in 1903. The story is set in the Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush when strong sled doges were the way the work was done.

Buck is the novels main character and he is stolen from his comfortable home in Santa Clara Valley, California. His father was a huge St. Bernard, his mother was a Scotch Shepard dog and he weighed 140 lbs. He is eventually sold as a sled dog in Alaska. He learns fast and is much smarter than the other dogs and many of his handlers. As he learns to fight for survival and dominance he senses his own primeval influences that take him back maybe even the beginning of time. He seems to master the life as a sled dog but the feelings he has for the wild call him and he eventually emerges as a leader in the wild.

London’s story from Buck’s point of view is masterfully done.

The Call of the Wild Quotes

“He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time.” 

“He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time.” 

“The ghostly winter silence had given way to the great spring murmur of awakening life.” 

 

The Call of the Wild
By Jack London