Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Professor and the Madman - Book Review

The Professor and the Madman (USA)
The Surgeon of Crowthorne (UK)
Harper Collins 1999
Reissued 2005

As I have mentioned previously, I like Simon Winchester. He has a knack for finding unusual stories and gems in history and writing good books about them. This is the story of how the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was created.

I LOVE reading historical factual stories such as this one. One can learn much from books like this. And any book from which I learn something new, is a good book in my opinion.

A few things I liked about this book:

1. One will assuredly learn a thing or two about the English language, in reading it. You will learn some obsolete words, the origin of some words, and just get a refresher of other, more common words. Each chapter begins with a dictionary entry of a particular word, some very normal words, some more exotic words.

2. The parallel lives of the two main characters are interesting to follow. One feels real emotions for both. There are a few shocking moments in the book, which stand out quite a bit in front of the otherwise fairly tame narrative.

3.I always wondered how they compiled all the words in a dictionary. It was great to learn how they did that.

4. The book covers an array of themes and topics, and a fairly diverse geography. Mental illness, civil war, sexual propriety, crime and punishment, one can learn a little bit about a lot of issues in the reading of Simon Winchester's book.

Overall, though, this book was a nice, quick read, a good plot, and you will learn a thing or two from it. I enjoyed it very much.

I read this book for the Bibliophilic Challenge

J.D. Salinger, author of 'Catcher in the Rye,' has died

"Catcher in the Rye" author J.D. Salinger has died at age 91 in New Hampshire.

The author's son, in a statement from the author's literary representative, says Salinger died of natural causes at his home. He had lived for decades in self-imposed isolation in the small, remote house in Cornish, N.H.

"The Catcher in the Rye" with its immortal teenage protagonist - the twisted, rebellious Holden Caulfield - came out in 1951 during the time of anxious, Cold War conformity.

Salinger wrote for adults, but teenagers all over the world identified with the novel's themes of alienation, innocence and fantasy.

In later years, Salinger become famous for not wanting to be famous, refusing interviews

Original source

Full obituary

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Geographer's Library - Book Review

The Geographer's Library
by Jon Fasman
Penguin Press 2005

I thought this book would be an intellectual thriller, but it turned out not to be much of either. The most interesting part of the narrative are the short descriptions of the 15 objects that make up the geographer's library.

The geographer was a real person, Al-Idrisi, a Spanish-Muslim philosopher, cartographer, linguist, and scholar who served in the court of King Roger of Sicily in Palermo in the year 1154.

The word Library implies a collection of books. There are no books. Just a collection of mundane objects that seem to have some importance. An importance that is not made obvious until the very last chapter.

Those brief but vivid stand-alone chapters about the objects were very interesting and they kept me reading this book all the way through the other parts where nothing much happens.

I found it rather disconcerting to have to switch centuries every chapter from the present to the library back to the present day story and then drop back into another object again.

This meant the book did not read in a very smooth manner but jerked its way through the entire story to the very end. I have mentioned previously in this blog, how much I dislike sudden changes of time in books. Authors do need to be more careful with this style.

The present day story is about Paul, a recent college grad investigating the death of a professor at the college he just graduated from. While Paul is asking questions to gather information on the professors obituary, he has a series of vaguely threatening experiences, most of which go nowhere.

And the ending - where everything was all wrapped up in the last chapter like a parcel ready for delivery?? Well...the objects are used to become immortal. The professor whose obituary Paul was writing was supposedly immortal - if you can beleive that.

The trouble is that there is absolutely no mention of HOW the objects are used to become immortal. I would have liked to have known that. I would also have loved to have learnt more about the geographer himself - Al Idrisi.

While I did read the entire novel, it never caught my attention like the Thieves of Baghdad did.

Thieves of Baghdad - Book Review

Thieves of Baghdad - One Marine’s Passion for Ancient Civilizations and the Journey to Recover the World’s Greatest Stolen Treasures
by Matthew Bogdanos
Bloomsbury Publishing 2005

This has got to go under the Relic Hunters Challenge with a title like that!!!

I thought this book would be dry and academic but NO it turned out to be much more exciting, and so well written that I finished the entire book in 6 straight hours.

Colonel Matthew Bogdanios was in the USMC (United States Marine Corps) reserve. He had a degree in classical studies as well as a law degree. He worked for the District Attorneys office in NYC. He started the book off with a very detailed and exciting description of what he and his family (wife and 3 kids) went through in Manhattan on September 11, 2001. After 9-11 he returned to active duty.

In 2003, the US invaded and occupied Iraq. Shortly after the occupation began, the news began drifting out that the Iraqi National Museum had been looted and that many many treasures were missing. Questions were being asked as to why the US troops had not protected the museum and its treasures.

Matthew dreamed up an idea of how he wanted to help. He wanted to go into Iraq and find those treasures. He loved ancient history, he had a degree in the classics and he had spent several tours in Afghanistan and the middle east so he knew the culture and the region.

First he had to get permission from the top brass and then gather a team together. This he did with alacrity. He had many contacts in the military, customs and immigrations departments and the police.

So in 2003 the Joint Interagency Coordination Group (JIACG) acounter terrorism investigative team combining the miitary, FBI, CIA, Immigrations and Customs enforcement (ICE)and Treasury was set up. Matthew was made Deputy Director.

The primary task was to find evidence of terrorist cells, illegal weapons, terrorist financing and other violations of the UN Security Council resolutions directed at Saddam Hussein.

Matthew describes the day to day details of searching each and every room in the museum, looking for booby traps that may be have been left behind, locating some treasures still in storage and finding other treasures missing, liaising with the Iraqi museum staff and trying to encourage the locals to return what they had stolen, without paying out too much in rewards.

The team were very successful. People started telling them rumours of treasures in hiding. Slowly and surely the treasures were recovered.

One of the biggest treasures tnat Matthew really wanted to find was the Nimrud Jewellery. The rumour was that one of Saddams sons (possibly Uday) had taken the Nimrud jewellery from the Museum some years previously and hidden it with the intention of smuggling the jewllery out of Iraq. He never got the chance.

Finally after months of searching, Matthews team found the treasures in a box inside a flooded bank vault beneath Iraq's Central Bank in Baghdad. These treasures had been excavated starting in the 1980's from the palace of King Ashurnasirpal II in the ancient Assyrian capital of Nimrud, in northern Iraq. These antiquities date to the 8th and 9th century B.C.

Matthew and his team were responsible for recovering approximately 5,500 artifacts from humanity's earliest civilizations. They also exposed the link between the black market art world and terrorist funding.

Here are some of those exqusite pieces in detail.

American Gothic - Book Review

American Gothic
by Thomas Hoving
Chamberlain Brothers 2005

Todays book reviews are all my own books that I read during the latter half of my stay in Hospital.

Most Americans are familiar with the painting known as American Gothic. It's a very famous American painting. This book is about the life of Grant Wood, the painter, and the story of this specific masterpiece.

Grant Wood was born and raised in Iowa in 1891. He always had a knack for drawing and so in 1910, after High school, he enrolled in an Art School in Minnesota. In 1913 he enrolled at the Art Institute in Chicago.

Between 1920 to 1928 Grant made four trips to Europe, where he studied many styles of paintings.He was influenced the most by the 15th century artist Jan Van Eyck.

In the 1920s Grant lived in a carriage house in Cedar Rapids and tried to paint. He received one major commission - to create a stained glass window for a Veterans Memorial building in town. In 1932 Grant helped to found the Stone City Art Colony to help artists get through the depression. From 1934 Grant taught painting at the School of Art at the University of Iowa. He died of cancer in 1942, the day before he would have turned 51 years old.

This book gives a brief rundown of Grants life. It also gives a detailed overview of the American Gothic painting. It goes into details as to why Grant used certain images, lines, colours and so on. I enjoyed this book immensely. Despite American Gothic NOT being one of my favourite paintings.

I read this book for the Art History challenge.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Last Secret of the Temple - Book Review

The Last Secret of the Temple
by Paul Sussman
Random House 2005

From the Back Cover
A two thousand year-old mystery – a pulse-pounding race against time...

Jerusalem, 70 AD. As the legions of Rome besiege the Holy Temple, a boy is given a secret that he must guard with his life...

Southern Germany, December 1944. Six emaciated prisoners drag a mysterious crate deep into a disused mine. They too give their lives to keep the secret safe: murdered by their Nazi guards...

Egypt, Valley of the Kings, the present day. A body is found amongst some ruins. It appears to be an open-and-shut case but the more Inspector Yusuf Khalifa of the Luxor police uncovers about the dead man, the more uneasy he becomes. And his investigation turns out to be anything but routine. Khalifa doesn’t know it yet, but he is on the trail of an extraordinary long-lost artifact that could, in the wrong hands, turn the Middle East into a blood bath. It’s a dangerous path he’s taking – and what’s more he’s not alone.

From ancient Jerusalem, the Crusades, Cathar heretics and coded medieval manuscripts to the Holocaust, hidden Nazi treasure and the murderous present-day, The Last Secret of the Temple is a thrilling rollercoaster ride of an adventure.

When the body of hotel owner Piet Jansen is discovered amid the ruins of an archaeological site by the Nile, it looks like a routine investigation for Inspector Yusuf Khalifa. But the more he learns about Jansen, the more he is reminded of the brutal murder, some years earlier, of an Israeli woman at Karnak for which he always suspected the wrong man was convicted. Ignoring the objections of his superiors, Khalifa re-opens the case, but to do so finds he's obliged to team up with bigoted, hard-drinking Israeli detective Arieh Ben Roi.

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem, Palestinian journalist Layla al-Madani receives an anonymous letter. The writer claims to possess information that could radically alter the balance of power in the Middle East and requests her help in contacting Al-Mulatham, a ruthless terrorist leader whom she recently interviewed. In return she is offered the greatest scoop of her career, which, she is told, is intimately connected with the strange medieval manuscript that accompanied the letter.

Against a backdrop of escalating violence, Layla follows up the ancient cryptic document while Khalifa and Ben-Roi uncover the unpleasant truth about Piet Jansen.

Their investigations take them from ancient Jerusalem, the Crusades and the Cathar Heresy to Vichy France and the Nazi Holocaust. Forced to confront their own prejudices and demons, they unearth the existence of an ancient artefact of such symbolic power that, were it to fall into the wrong hands, it would plunge the Middle East into all-out war. Caught in a desperate race to recover the object before Jewish or Muslim extremist groups claim it as their own, the trail leads Khalifa, Layla and Ben Roi to a hidden cache of looted Nazi treasure. Deep within an abandoned mine in Southern Germany, Khalifa discovers that appearances can be terrifyingly deceptive.

This was an exciting book - I could not put it down. I read this for the Relic Novels Challenge.

Broken Window - Book Review

The Broken Window
by Jeffrey Deaver
Hodder Paperbacks 2009

Data mining is the industry of the 21st century. Commercial companies collect information about us from thousands of sources—credit cards, loyalty programs, hidden radio tags in products, medical histories, employment and banking records, government filings, and many more, then analyze and sell the data to anyone willing to pay the going rate.

Some people approve, citing economic benefits; others worry about the erosion of privacy.

But no one has been prepared for a new twist: A psychotic killer with access to the country's biggest data miner—Strategic Systems Datacorp—is using detailed information to work his way into the lives of victims, rape, rob and kill them and then blame unsuspecting innocents for the crimes. The killer's voluminous knowledge of the victims and his ability to plant damning evidence mean that even the most vocal protests of innocence go ignored by the police and juries.

The perp has, in short, found a perfect means to literally get away with murder—until one of his fall guys turns out to be Lincoln Rhyme's cousin, Arthur, who is facing certain conviction for first-degree murder. Though the two Rhymes haven't had any contact for years, Lincoln agrees to look into the case. In the process he unravels a spider web of crime that the killer, known only as Unknown Subject 522, has woven.

Rhyme, Amelia Sachs and the cast of the previous Rhyme books find themselves up against their most insidious villain, a man obsessed with collecting—from junk on the street to intimate details about our lives to the ultimate trophy: human lives themselves, which he sees as mere streams of data. This is a man proficient with razors and guns, but whose most dangerous weapon is information, which he wields with ruthless precision against those he targets on whim . . . and against those who try to stop him.

"How," Rhyme says, "can you defend yourself against the man who knows everything?"

As the invisible 522 attacks his pursuers through identity theft and outright torture and murder, the stymied police have to turn to the likely source of the data the killer uses—the eerie and monolithic Strategic Systems Datacorp, headed by the legendary data mining pioneer, Andrew Sterling, whose "mission" is the creation of a global empire based not on politics or money but on information.

"Knowledge is power," Sterling continually reminds.

And for Lincoln Rhyme, the case has an added dimension: Arthur's reemergence draws him back to his childhood and teen years and forces the criminalist to grapple with a tragedy from his past he has avoided for decades.

The Broken Window is classic Deaver fare: Taking place over three frantic days, the novel features dozens of twists and turns, fascinating, highly researched details—about identity theft, data mining and threats to privacy, as well as forensic science—and, of course, offers the typical multiple surprise endings the author is known for crafting.

Inside this novel were 6 pages of information categories that are normally collected about every single person. Very detailed information. VERY SCARY

AKA and Aliases
Current Address
Addresses for past 10 years
Ancestral History
National Origin
Physical description
Biomatic details (photographs, fingerprints etc)
Tissue sample
Medical History
Political affiliation
Fraternal affiliations
Professional affiliations
Religious affiliations
Military Service
Military ID
Weapons training
Units served with
Donations made
Psychiatric History
Myers Briggs type
Sexual preferences
Hobbies and Interests
Grandparents (maternal & paternal)
Other blood relations (living & dead)
Neighbours (past & present)
Employment history (past & present)
Food & Drink
Household items
Purchases (last 7 days back to last 5 years)
Books purchased
Books borrowed (library)
Other library activities
Films seen
Cable TV programs watched
Travel (last 5 years)
Languages known
GPS devices
RFID reports
PDA & mobiles
Criminal arrests & history
Watch lists
Restraining orders
Whistleblower history
Civil litigations (for and against)
Employment history, salary, reasons for discharge
Citations & reprimands
Days absent
Income (IRS) - foreign income, non reported income, assets (personal and financial)
Credit reports
Credit rating
Financial transactions (going back 5 years)
Telephone numbers - landline, cell and blackberry
old phone, fax and pager numbers
Internet Service Providers (ISPs) used - past & present
email addresses and contacts
email activity
websites - personal and profesional
websites visited (last 5 years)
Social sites (Myspace, Facebook, Twitter etc)
online personas
mailing lists
buddies & Friends
SEO results
Post Office boxes

They want to know everything about you and then they want make a lot of money by SELLING it. The only way to avoid this is to go "off the grid".

Dreams of my Father - Book Review

Dreams of my Father
by Barack Obama
Three Rivers Press (2004 edition)

I found this book at the patient library while I was in hospital and decided that I might as well read it and see what all the fuss was about.

Obama tells the story of his parents, their marriage, how he grew up in Hawaii, his time in Indonesia and then at a private school back in Hawaii.

After he graduated from High school he tells how he went to college in California and then went to New York to look for work to bring about change. He did a few jobs in NYC but eventually he took a job in Chicago working as a community organiser. Mostly his work was in the projects trying to organise the locals. He also spent a lot of time trying to get the city council to create jobs in and around the projects in order to get the people off welfare.

The last few chaptes of the book covers Obama's trip to Kenya to meet his relatives before he goes on to attend Harvard Law School. For me this was the most interesting section of the book, as it gave me a look at Obama's extended family, and the interactions between the members. It is also a look inside life in Kenya, and Barack's search to get to know his father. It is also in this section where Barack Obama realizes exactly who he is. Barack forms a fairly strong relationship with his half sister Auma, in spite of the distance and the difficulties which it creates.

This is an interesting book, though certainly Obama's skill as a writer does not match that of his skill as an orator. I found the writing quite dry in places. I also thought that some of the thinking of the young Obama was somehow very mature for a child of that age - perhaps too mature. Either that or Obama is putting an adult slant on his childhood thinking.

Prairie Tale - Book Review

Prairie Tale
by Melissa Gilbert
Simon & Schuster 2009
Offical website

Everyone knows this face. During the 1970s she was the most famous face on TV.

Actress Melissa Gilbert of “Little House on the Prairie” was America’s sweetheart and many presumed she enjoyed a blessed childhood. But in reality, the talented star’s home life was a far cry from the idyllic life she portrayed in the popular TV show.

In her memoir, “Prairie Tale,” Melissa Gilbert shares her story of growing up in front of the cameras, dealing with a complicated family, overcoming alcoholism, bad marriages and addictive relationships, and how she finally learned to move on.

An enjoyable story and a very real warning to anyone about real life in Hollywood.

My Guantanamo Diary - Book Review

My Guantanamo Diary
by Mahvish Rukhsana Khan
Perseus Group, 2008
Authors website

Mahvish Khan was born and raised in USA. Her parents were immigrants from Afghanistan. now both respcted medical doctors. Mahvish grew up speaking fluent Pushtu (the lingua franca language of Afghanistan) as well as English. In 2005 Mahvish was a student at the University of Miamai Law School.

She had been raised to believe that the USA was a good country and that it respected the laws of justice and democracy.

Until the camp at Guantanamo Bay opened up. Then she began speaking out against the USA for illegally imprisoning men without trials. Her fiance got upset and said - Well why dont you stop complaining and get yourself involved if you feel so strongly.

So Mahvish sat down and googled the names of the attorneys for the 2004 Supreme Court case Rasul vs Bush. Mahvish bombarded those lawyers with emails saying she wanted to help. Eventually she was put in touch with a lawyer in Philadelphia who had 15 Afghani clients at Gitmo. The lawyer had never been able to speak to his clients as he did not speak Pushtun and they didnt speak English. Finally Mahvish had something of value that the lawyers could use - her fluency in Pushtun.

The FBI took 6 months to complete her back ground security check and when it was finally granted, Mahvish was off to Gitmo in January 2006 for her first visit.

Her role with the detainees quickly developed past that of just interpreter. She began providing supervised legal counsel and traveled to Afghanistan to find exonerating evidence for prisoners.

During more than thirty trips to Guantanamo, Khan unexpectedly connected with the very men that Donald Rumsfeld called “the worst of the worst.” She brought them starbucks chai, the closest available drink to the kind of tea they would drink at home. And they quickly befriended her, offering fatherly advice as well as a uniquely personal insight into their plight, and that of their families thousands of miles away. As time went by Khan began to question whether Guantanamo truly held America’s most dangerous enemies. But regardless of each prisoner’s innocence or guilt, she was determined to preserve their most fundamental right, the right to a fair trial.

For Mahvish Rukhsana Khan, the experience was a validation of her Afghan heritage—as well as her American Freedoms, which allowed her to intervene at Guantanamo purely out of her sense that it was the right thing to do. Her story is challenging, brave, and essential test of who she is — and who we are.

Washington Post article on which the book is based

A Good Life - Book Review

A Good Life
by Ben Bradlee
Simon & Schuster 1995

For some reason I have a fascination with the Washington Post newspaper. So much so that I have read everything I can lay my hands on about Watergate (including All the Presidents Men - book and movie).

Last year I read a new book about Woodward & Bernstein, basically updating their story since Watergate. I have just recently finished Katherine Graham's biography and now I have finally finished reading Ben Bradlees biography as well.

Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1921. He graduated from Harvard University in 1942 and served in the Pacific with the Office of Naval Intelligence during World War II.

Returning from the war in 1946, he became a reporter with the New Hampshire Sunday News and then joined The Washington Post two years later.

In 1951, he became a press attaché at the U.S. embassy in Paris and two years later joined Newsweek magazine’s Paris bureau, from which he covered the Anglo-French invasion of Suez and the Algerian rebellion.

In 1957, Bradlee came to Washington, D.C., and soon became Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief. In 1965, he rejoined the Washington Post as its managing editor and three years later became its executive editor, a position he would hold until retirement in 1991.

On his watch, in 1971, the Post challenged the federal government for the right to publish the Pentagon Papers, a secret government study of the U.S. role in Vietnam. A year later, Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein began their investigation of a Washington hotel burglary, which developed into the Watergate scandal and resulted in the resignation of Richard Nixon as president.

In 1995, Bradlee published his memoirs, “A Good Life: Newspapering and Other Adventures.” In a previous book, “Conversations With Kennedy,” published in 1975, Bradlee described the John F. Kennedy he got to know behind the scenes as a neighbor and confidant, starting in 1958 and running through Kennedy’s presidency until his death.

Since retirement Bradlee also has taught journalism courses at Georgetown University and continues in the position of vice president-at-large at the Post.

OK so those are the basics about Ben Bradlee.

If you want to know the details, you have to read the book.

I really enjoyed this book. Ben writes in a casual manner and the print is easy to read. It was not cramped like Mrs Graham's book was. Part of the details include Ben's 3 marriages and the occasional mention of his 4 kids. He also writes about his friendships with JFK and RFK and the anatagonistic relationship he and the Post had with Richard Nixon.

Ben explains how Watergate story got started. The Post was told that 5 men had been arrested for breaking into the Democratic headquarters at the watergate hotel.

Post journalists scoured for details. Little things like overhearing James McCord jr say he was in the CIA, and how an address book had the name of Howard Hunt and a notation of the White house.

Woodward called the White House switchboard and asked for Mr Hunt. When the phone ran unanswered, the operator redirected the call to Mr Colsons office as that was where Hunt might be. Colsons secretary told Woodward to catch Hunt at a PR company which they did. Hunt was aksed why his name was in the addressbook of 2 burglars arrested at the democratic headquarters. Hunts reply was "Good God"

James McCord's picture was recognised as someone who worked for the Presidents committee to re-elect the president (CRP). In less than 48 hours the Post had traced a third rate burglary deep into the White House. The next question was WHY??

And that is how it all started - by good investigative journalism.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Rosetta Codex - Book Review

The Rosetta Codex
by Richard Paul Russo
Berkeley Publishing Group 2005
(science fiction)

Cale Alexandros was five years old when his family's starship crashed on the prison planet Morningstar. His father and his nanny both died. Cale was picked up by a band of brutal prisoners and raised as a slave for many years.

Around the age of 15, Cale was able to escape and he began making his way to the divide - a huge chasm running across the planet that divided the large prison area from the smaller civilised area. The chasm or divide could be crossed only at certain points where the bridges had been built. These bridges were under heavy guard.

As a slave, Cale had never learnt how read and write. Fortunately one of the first people he met on his travels was an anchorite woman who was living an austere life. she taught Cale the basics of reading and writing and showed him how many different languages has their own alphabets.

During his travels to the divide, Cale came across a building with some weird writing on the walls. By the walls was a large concrete tomb which Cale opened, Inside was a books make of metal pages. Cale tried to read the book but did not know the language. So he buried the book under ground and vowed to retreive it some day.

By the time Cale was 20 he finally reached the bridge to cross the divide. Once on the other side, he settles in the city of Morningstar, and begins looking for a group of people called the resurrectionists.

This group beleive that the city of Morningstar was built on the ruins of an ancient alien city, that they have been digging beneath the city trying to find alien artifacts.
I think you have found the alien city, said Cale.
What makes you think that?
Because I think I have seen an alien artifact myself.
On the other side of the Divide.

Cale takes the resurrectionists back across the Divide to the place where he buried the book, and they bring it back to Morningstar. By now Cale is 22 years old and it is time for him to take his rightful place amongst the stars.

He travels back to his home world and takes over the family business (which had been run by his mother after her husband and son died). Cale builds a ship, hires a crew and they go looking for the planet of the ancients following the star maps in the alien book.

You will have to read the book to see what happens at the meeting. But I did enjoy this story.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lara McClintoch novels - Book Reviews

Lara McClintock Archaelogical Mystery series
by Lyn Hamilton
Berkeley Prime Time
Authors website
The Etruscan Chimera 2002
The Thai Amulet 2004
The Chinese Alchemist 2007

I have just read Lyn Hamilton's website, sadly to learn Lyn died of cancer in September 2009. She was 65 years old.

The Etruscan Chimera

A Chimera is a mythological animal with the head and body of a lion, a second head of a goat and a serpent for the tail.

Lara McClintock is hired by a reclusive and wealthy collector, Crawford Lake, to purchase the Bellerophon statue that goes with the Arezzo Chimera. The Bellerophon is in France. The Chimera is already in the Arezzo museum in Italy and Lake wants to get them back together. These two pieces of art was created by the Etruscans who lived in Italy before the Roman Empire began. Both of these names (Bellerophon and Chimera are mentioned in Book six of the Iliad.

While trying to purchase the Bellerophon, Lara becomes involved in the theft of an Etruscan Hydria water jug. She also finds the private collector who owned the hydria dead. On her way to see Mr Lake, Lara finds the hydria again. She inadvertantly smuggles the hydria across the border from France into Italy.

Lara eventually discovers that Mr Lake is not who he says he is, and that there is a group of Etruscan fanatics who are stealing Etruscan artifacts from private collections around the world and smuggling them into Italy to be held at a private museum.

The Thai Amulet

A young friend of Lara's named Jennifer, has fallen in love with a fellow university student. This student is from Thailand and Jennifer is off to Thailand to meet his family. At the same time William Beauchamp goes missing in Thailand and his wife asks Lara to look for him, so Lara accompanies Jennifer to Thailand. William had sent his wife some amulets and Lara takes them back to Thailand with her.

Once in Thailand, Jennifer discovers that her boyfriend is the first born son of a well known Thai family that own a huge business corporation. The son is being groomed to take over the mansgement from the father and will not be permittrd to marry a foreigner. Jennifer is heartbroken.

Meanwhile Lara begins looking for William. She also find out that the amulets that william sent to his wife are very bad. They are not the usual designs. And Lara finds another mystery. Where 50 years previously an american woman had killed her husband and child and then disappered.

In this book Lara solves the mystery of the 50 year old murder, and the secret of the amulets.

I learnt a lot about Thai history, culture and geography in this book.

The Chinese Alchemist

A wealthy Eurasian collecter in Toronto(Dorothy Matthews) ask Lara to bid on a small chinese box that is going up for sale at a local auction. The box is withdrawn from the sale just minutes befor the sale is due to start. Dorothy dies from the stress. Some months later, the box agains comes up for auction - only this time in Beijing.

Lara is asked by Dorothy's widow to go to Beijing and see if she can purchase the box. At the auction the box is stolen in plain site of several viewers including Lara. Lara follows the thief to Xian where she discovers that Dorothy's family have been raiding an unknown imperial tomb from the area and that the 3 boxes originally came from this tomb.

The 3 boxes are engraved with parts of a recipe on them - the recipe to immortality.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

And another major life change....

For those of you who are wondering why this blog has been so quiet - well I just spent a week in Hospital.

It started on Monday 4th January 2010, when my legs started swelling up. The skin became tight and my weight went up 20 pounds. I could not even get into bed without using my hands to LIFT my legs up. This is called Edema. My legs refused to go back to their normal size despite my elevating them. A few days later the heart started racing (tacycardia) and by now I was getting worrled. So on January 13th I finally went to the doctors.

I had edema, tachycardia and an enlarged liver, plus with the 70 pounds weight loss, I was looking gaunt and just not good.

I havent seen anyone looking as ill as you do, in all the 8 years I have been here, the doctor said. I want you to go to hospital - right now.

So I did. And had bed rest there for 6 days.

Thursday 14th I had several ultra sounds, an echocardiogram, and a CAT scan.

The hospital I was in, is a teaching hospital associated with the local university. On Friday 15th, due to my heart defect (I have a VSD that has never been repaired) and my other medical issues, I had several classes of students come though my room to see me and feel and hear what a real heat murmur looks and sounds like. These students were learning to be internists, cardiologists and nurses.

I was diagnosed with a hyperactive thyroid - and a condition known as Graves Disease. I was given medication to take, that will slow the heart down and keep it under control, control the thyroid and remove the fluid in my legs.

I was discharged on Tuesday 19th of January and am now back at home.

Graves disease cannot yet be cured, but it is manageable. and I will be taking drugs to control it for several years. It is possible to go into remission - where the disease behaves itself and the thyroid can function normally without any drugs. But if this never happens, then the drugs must continue for the rest of my life.

Because I had gone directly to the hospital from my doctors office, I did not have a chances to stock up on books. My weekend in hospital was so boring because I had no books to read. However I have read quite a few books and reviews will be up eventually.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Last Judgement - Book Review

The Last Judgement
by Iain Pers
originally published by Victor Gollancz 1993
paperback published by Harper Collins 2001

Iain Pears is an English journalist and an art historian. He has written a number of novels starring Jonathan Argyll (an art dealer), most of which I have read. But I was pleased to find this novel which I had not read yet. So I read this for the Art History challenge.

The last Judgement is a painting by Jean Floret called the Death of Socrates. (He is the one who was forced to eat hemlock). It was one of a series of 4 paintings all shoing the last judgements of Alexander, Solomon and Jesus. (in reality there is a death of socrates painting but it is by Jacques Louis David and the other 3 paintings do not exist)

Jonathan is asked by a dealer in Paris to take this painting to Rome and deliver it to its new owner. When Jonathan arrives at the new owners place, the owner is delighted to get the painting, looks it over and then becomes disappointed saying that he no longer wants the painting. Jonathan takes it home and when he goes back the next day to ask some questions, he finds that the owner is now dead.

The owners name was Muller, a citizen of Canada born in France but raised in Argentina before immigrating to Canada. He had a secret - he was adopted and when he was 10 years old, he found out that his real father had been a hero in France during WW2. After Muller left school, he began his hunt to find his real father.

Mullers killer was traced to Switzerland. His name was Ellman and in his apartment (Jonathans partner) Flavia de Stanio found records that indicated that Ellman was receiving 5000 every months. Meanwhile Jonatahn went to paris to ask dome serious questions of the police and ifnd out who the real owner of the painting was. He is given a name - Jean Xavier Marie Rouxel - a french hero in the reisistance during WW2, who was due to receive a top french award later that month.

It turns out that Mullers mother was an english woman married to a german based in france during WW2. She was having an affair with Jean Rouxel and she gave birth to his child. She gave the child up for adoption and never told Jean he was a father. Her german husband (Hartung) knew that the child was not his. The wife eventually became a member of the resistance against Hartungs wishes.

Jean was the leader of a resistance cell and every time they tried to commit an action against the germans, the germans would show up there and prevent it. Someone in that group was a traitor.

After the war ended some of the group were interrogated by the germans, some were executed and some were released. Proof of the story was inserted into a painting.

The story of the resistance cell that were traitors only came out some 40 years later when muller started looking for his father. He was looking for Hartung. He was killed before he discovered that the war hero Jean Rouxel was his real father.

As for the painting - the last judgement, Rouxel claimed it as his own. It turned out that he had another painting in the same series. This second painting had the proof.

This was a most unusual art history book to read - because it was not all about the painting - no forgeries, no secrets. The secret was what happend in WW2. The painting was not involved except to hold the proof.

I am not fond of WW2 stories but I did read this to the end.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Publishers dumbfounded by airplane book ban

Publishers dumbfounded by airplane book ban
Globe and Mail Newpaper , Toronto, Canada
Tuesday, Jan. 05, 2010

Canadian publishers are dumbfounded by new airport security measures that seem to forbid passengers from bringing books and magazines purchased pre-flight onto airplanes bound for the U.S.

The measures, announced Dec. 28 by Transport Canada, permit Canadian passengers en route to the U.S. to carry on board “one or more” of 13 specified items. They include canes, cameras, laptop computers, musical instruments and “medical devices.”

However, books and magazines are not included among the permitted items. The situation has left Carolyn Wood, executive director of the Association of Canadian Publishers, “speechless, really. We're used to governments fearing books for their content. But what is it here? Is it their explosive capability?”

Ms. Wood's dismay was echoed by Jacqueline Hushion, executive director, external relations, for the Canadian Publishers' Council. The council represents some of the country's biggest foreign-owned publishers, including Random House and Penguin. (The ACP represents Canadian-owned firms.) “There's no common-sense in this,” Ms. Hushion said. “I can't believe they're not going to retract it. … And if they don't, I know thousands of people they'll be hearing from.”

An earlier news report indicated that while security personnel could exercise “some discretion” in what is permitted to go through security, only books and magazines purchased after the security check would be allowed into the cabin.

Globe and Mail

So for anyone travelling to USA - you cannot take any books with you (from outside the airport) through the security line. You have to purchase your books AFTER you have gone through the security line.

Well, now there is ONE MORE reason for me to NOT travel to USA.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Moai Murders - Book Review

The Moai Murders
by Lyn Hamilton
Berkeley Prime Crime Books 2006

This is a Lara McClintoch Murder mystery. There are about 10 books in this series - all starring Lara Mcclintoch, an antiques dealer based in Toronto, Canada.

In this book, Lara takes a vacation with her friend Moira to Easter Island.

While they are on the island there is a conference about the history of easter island includng the moai (the statues) and rongo-rongo (the writing of easter island) which so far has stumped all linguists. So Lara and Moira join the conference.

This conference is a private group of easter island enthusiasts who have all visited easter island at least once before.

The conference discussion centres around where the easter island people came from - did they come from south america to the east (ala thor heyerdahl) or were they originally polynesians coming from the north west.

One of the members of this group Jasper Robinson has a surprise for the group. He shows a wooden tablet with rongo rongo writing on it and says he found it in Chile which proves that the easter islanders came from south america.

But two other members of the conference claim that Jasper is not telling the truth. Eventually it comes out that the tablet is genuine but it was found 30 years previously on Easter island in 1975 - on a dig which Jasper had headed. Two of the conference members were also on that dig.

During the conference - 3 members of the conference are murdered. One of them is Jasper Robinson, after he makes his big announcement.

Lara sets about asking questions, helping suspects to hide - the police have to come out from Chile to oversee the investigation - and eventually she tracks down the murder weapon and the murderer.

The murder weapon is a poison pen used for tattoos. Easter islanders have a tradition of tattooing the skin and some of the conference members get a tattoo. Those that do, end up dead.

I enjoyed this book very much, as it told me all about easter island, its geography, the culture and customs and the connection with Chile which lays claim to Easter island.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Personal History - Book Review

Personal History
by Katherine Graham
First published 1997
Vintage Books(paperback)1998

This is the personal memoir of Katherine Graham who owned and ran the Washington Post newspaper.

I have always been interested in the Watergate scandal and the 2 journalists who broke that story wide open - Bernstein and Woodward who both worked for the Post. Now I have finally finished Mrs Graham's memoir. This is the chunkster I mentioned a while ago. There is just over 600 pages of tightly packed small print. But that is not the reason wny I took over a months to read this book. No.

This book was hard to read because it reminded me so much of me. Katherine Graham insisted on pointing out a large number of times when she was a doormat - when she said "yes sir" and did what she was told without being allowed to make her own descision. She was a doormat for her father and mother, for her husband and for the government.

But after her husband died, Katherine was forced to grow up, to make decisions and to learn to make her own decisions. Just like I was. The second half of this book after her husband died was so much easier to read.

When I finished High school, I can still remember being told that I should do accounting and commerce at University (because thats where the jobs were) and not history which is what I wanted to do. So I did accounting and economics and I failed every single course. I was officially suspended from university for one year and never bothered to go back.

I truely regret not sticking up for myself and doing what I really wanted to do. If I had done the history degree, I could have been a librarian and right now I could be working in a career for the last 20 years, a career that I know I would be enjoying very much. But no, I was told that all I can do with a history degree was teach - and I did not want to be a teacher.

Thats enough, lets get in with it... (rolf harris)

Katharine Graham was born in 1917 in washington DC to great privilege. As I read about her financially privileged birth and upbringing, I wondered how such a spoiled and very sheltered child could survive in the world. Like I said, I did not get past the third chapter before I had to take a break from the book for a few days.

When Katharine was a 17-year-old boarding school student in suburban Washington, D.C., and the country was in the midst of the Great Depression (1933), her father bought The Washington Post Company (the fifth of five city newspapers and a pitiful, failing wreck) for $825,000. From then on, Katherine's life centered around The Washington Post.

At first, Katharine’s involvement with the Post is observational: she studied journalism in college while her father strove make a profit running the newspaper. She married a lawyer named Phil Graham. Phil inherits the newspaper while she raises her children. She did not inheriet the Washington Post because she was a woman.

Katherine wrotes about how she stayed socially aloof, ran the household complete with servants and a cook, and had parties with many famous people. There is a lot of name dropping in this book. Also a lot of Photos as well.

Phil graham was having very strange mood swings, and noone knew why. Now the symptoms of manic depression are obvious but they were not widely known in the 1960s. Also this illness, whatever it was, had to be kept quiet. In 1963 Phil committed suicide.

After Phil died, Katherine's life changed for the better. She was given the post of Presdient of the Washington Post. She had a lot to learn and she was not afraid to ask questions and learn the ropes. She was considered a powerful woman because of her title.

Katherine wrote about what happened during the turbulent 1970s. The Pentagon papers were published in 1971, Watergate stretched from 1972 to 1974 and in 1975-76 the printing union went on strike for 5 months.

Katharine’s life revolved around The Washington Post Company in every way, especially after her husband’s death and her assumption as president and publisher of the company. During the unfolding of Watergate, she or the newspaper were getting threats from the Nixon White House on a daily basis.

In addition, while one might have thought that The Washington Post was a well established paper when Watergate happened, it wasn’t. In 1974, after Watergate, the printer’s union went on strike, and The Washington Post could have easily folded. Instead, Katharine Graham learned how to run the presses, and the paper got out every day during the nearly six-month strike. Grahams’ ability to save the paper, despite the pressures, was incredible.

Katharine Graham led an interesting life of contrasts. While I worried her rich childhood meant she had a spoiled, sheltered life, I was very pleased on how much she grew and developed even during the seemingly insurmountable challenges.

As Katharine reviews her own life, she reveals much about the times in which she lived and the developments that society faced. I learned not just about Katharine Graham but about politics and political figures, publishing and journalism, travel, the life of the rich, history, culture, and the changing face of humankind over time.

She died in 2001 at age 83.
Prsonal History won Katherine a Pulitzer Prize in 1998.