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Animal Farm–still relevant

Animal Farm

by George Orwell

In reaction to Stalin’s efforts to gain control in the Spanish Civil War in 1937, George Orwell, a writer who fought in that war and witnessed the purges, created what he called “a fairy tale.” Russell Baker, author of the afterword in the Signet Classics edition of Animal Farm said that Orwell “thought too many decent people in the Western democracies had succumbed to a dangerously romantic view of the Russian revolution that blinded them to Soviet reality.” Clearly, Orwell, a self-proclaimed socialist, abhorred the totalitarian state which could emerge from socialism.

The allegory Animal Farm was first published in 1945 after pro-Soviet sentiment died down. It was immediately popular in England and America. It has a timeless theme which Téa Obreht, originally from Yugoslavia, shares in her introduction: “no society is inherently safe from these horrors.” Sometime in the new century, when engaging in retirement downsizing, I donated my copy of Animal Farm remembering it as an important work, but convinced that it is not relevant in our freedom loving United States of America. Recently, concerned about the direction toward total control being gradually imposed in my country, I bought a new copy of Animal Farm.

This short work of fiction tells the story of the animals on Mr. Jones’ farm. They don’t have it too bad. They have just enough to eat and a place to sleep, but they resent Mr. and Mrs. Jones and their farmhouse. The animals are convinced by Major, a prize boar, to fight for their freedom and transform their home into a socialistic farm where no one would be their master, they wouldn’t have to work as hard, and food would be in abundance. They are successful initially in working toward their dream, but things change very gradually as two competing pigs take over after the death of Major. Some of the problems at Animal Farm are born of natural disasters; others are the result of greedy and power-hungry pigs with their security guard dogs.

The animals continue to work hard and grumble little, but life gets worse for all but the pigs and dogs. Eventually the animals no longer remember what the seven commandments that structure their society are or recognize the changes that occur in them. Most can not read them anyway. They also don’t remember what things were really like in the past. They are easily convinced by the leader’s assistant, who with rapid-fire delivery spouts off “facts and figures,” thus proving that their lives are much better than they used to be.

Most of the characters are animals, of course. My favorite is the donkey, Benjamin, who has seen it all, but rarely talks. He just goes along knowing he will probably outlive whatever the latest notion is.  Boxer is a very strong horse who has two personal mottos: “I will work harder.” and “Napoleon [the victorious pig leader] is always right.” The other animals find Boxer very inspiring. The animals are divided into committees. Interestingly, there is a Re-education Committee which the cat, who is rarely around at work time, joins. There is a large contingent of sheep who can be counted on to respond to everything with a loud chanting of “Four legs good, two legs bad.” 

If you have not read Animal Farm, I encourage you to do so. It truly is reflective of what is occurring within the U.S. society including the political class and those who serve them. Although this was written with Stalin in mind, I was able to discern similarities to people, groups, and events in 2020-2021 and ponder the twenty or so build-up years leading to the changes we’re currently experiencing. Animal Farm is relevant today, and sadly will remain relevant as long as there is a greedy, power-hungry class and a populace that can be duped by false “facts,” persuasive rhetoric, and romantic notions of a utopian society.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction

Notes: Political Allegory

Publication: Originally published in 1948. I read the Signet Classics edition published in June 2020 by Penguin Random House.

Memorable Lines:

He repeated a number of times,  “Tactics, comrades, tactics!” skipping round and whisking his tail with a merry laugh. The animals were not certain what the word meant, but Squealer spoke so persuasively, and the three dogs who happened to be with him growled so threateningly, that they accepted his explanation without further questions.

Truth to tell, Jones and all he stood for had almost faded out of their memories. They knew that life nowadays was harsh and bare, that they were often hungry and often cold, and that they were usually working when they were not asleep. But doubtless it had been worse in the old days. They were glad to believe so.

But once Benjamin consented to break his rule, and he read out to her what was written on the wall. There was nothing there now except a single Commandment. It ran:

ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL

BUT SOME ANIMALS ARE MORE EQUAL THAN OTHERS

A Springtime to Remember–gardens of Versailles

A Springtime to Remember

by Lucy Coleman

A Springtime to RememberThere are times, like today, when I wonder why I would pick a romance off the virtual bookshelves. Then I read a book like A Springtime to Remember by Lucy Coleman and understanding strikes again. I am hit by a combination of the beauty of Versailles, the ostentatious audacity of the aristocracy of days gone by, a passion for history, the mystery of family relationships, and ultimately the gentle magnetism of two hearts drawn into one.

Lexie, a TV presenter, wants more professionally; it is not enough to be the pretty face in front of the camera. She also has to prove her value to her successful brother, Jake, who very publicly fired her. Lexie is combining forces with cameraman Elliot Nielson to produce and financially back their own mini-series of documentaries. Their first project takes them to France to focus on the Palace of Versailles. Their futures are ironically fixed in the past: Lexie has an added interest in Versailles as her grandmother, an avid gardener, spent a year working in the Versailles gardens immediately prior to her marriage. Mysteriously, she never discussed that year with her family.

Indulge in this clean romance with its appreciation for natural beauty and historical context. You will be treating yourself to lots of smiles and a few tears in the midst of a well-told tale.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Boldwood Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction

Publication:   December 26, 2019—Boldwood Books

Memorable Lines:

“Versailles holds so many secrets. The more you uncover, the more you realise the surface has only just been scratched, even after all the years of intense scrutiny.”

I nod my head in agreement, thinking that every family has their problems, they’re just all very different. It’s how you resolve them that counts…

“I’ve learnt that the nature of life is that everyone’s journey is different and, therefore, no one should ever stand in judgement of another. Not least because they have not travelled that same road. Instead, it’s wise to feel grateful if one’s own road is less arduous, or one is simply better equipped to deal with the harsher realities of life.”

Field of Bones: A Brady Novel of Suspense

Field of Bones: A Brady Novel of Suspense

by J.A. Jance

Field of BonesIt was all I could do to get through the first half of the book. Don’t get me wrong. Field of Bones, set in Arizona, fulfills its promise of being a suspenseful novel, and it is very well written. The characters are appropriately developed, and I certainly understand the appeal of Sheriff Joanna Brady, mother of three, as the main character of the series. She is a strong woman, but portrayed realistically, not as a superwoman. Part mystery, part thriller, part police procedural, and all suspense fiction, Field of Bones runs the full gamut.

The “but” you can hear coming is because of the topic: violent, horrible, sex slavery. It makes for a combo of “I can’t stop reading, leaving characters in this torturous situation” and “I can’t read anymore; it is just too painful.” Kudos to the author J.A. Dance for the skills to put me in this situation. At the same time, I have to say Jance does not include details of the violence, but offers enough information that anyone with an imagination will get the picture. Given the number of books she has published, I think a lot of people admire her storytelling talent. This book is just too terrifying for me, and I doubt I will read any more of her books.

Although some of the tension is relieved in the last half of the book, the story is far from over. At that point, I did enjoy watching how the professionals from various fields perform their duties and work to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to HarperCollins Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

 

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Thriller, Suspense, Mystery

Notes: #18 in the Joanna Brady Mystery Series, but despite the number of books that preceded this one, I had no trouble following the personal interactions because they were limited compared to the suspenseful storyline.

Publication:   September 4, 2018—HarperCollins Publishers

Memorable Lines:

At the end of this long, difficult day, he was in over his head. She needed a kind way to encourage him without undermining his confidence.

The pressure Latisha applied during the required three-minute wait hurt like crazy, but Garth was grateful for that. You had to be alive to know that it hurt.

“…did you ever get around to having that baby? The last time I saw you, you were big as a barn.” Randy Trotter was a lot of things, but politically correct wasn’t one of them. He was known for putting his lizard-skin Tony Lamas in his mouth, sometimes both of them at once. 

The Road to Paradise–climbing new heights

The Road to Paradise

The Road to Paradise

Karen Barnett’s The Road to Paradise is a delightful visit through time to Mount Rainier National Park in Washington. Set in 1927, the story tells of young Margie Lane, the socialite daughter of Senator Thomas Lane. A naturalist at heart, Margie is hired for the summer, as a political favor, into the male dominated environment with the expectation that she will only last a few days. Margie, lacking practical experience, brings with her determination, enthusiasm, a sense of wonder at God’s creation, and an academic background in botany and zoology.

This book has a villain, Phillip Carmichael, who has been manipulating Margie since childhood, and it has a hero, Chief Ranger Ford Brayden, Margie’s new boss. By the end of the story the reader has learned the motivations of each character and how their backgrounds and experiences set the stage for their actions.

Maggie is attracted to Ford, but realizes they have no future together because he does not share her faith in God. Calling God “the greatest Artist ever known,” Margie sees Him all around her in His amazing creation in Mount Rainier National Park and asks God to use her to share His love with others.

As Margie struggles in her new job and relationships with co-workers at the Park,  Phillip is always a force as he tries to convert the Park from wilderness to super tourist entertainment center—by any means necessary. Margie’s parents also play a role with their expectations for their daughter’s social and media status.

I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to Waterbrook (Random House) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: a Vintage National Parks novel

Publication:   June 6, 2017—Waterbrook (Random House)

Memorable Lines:

Ridgeline after ridgeline of deep green rose to meet the jagged edges of the enormous peak, tucked into its rumpled blanket of white.

Her smile added to the graceful beauty of her face. “I love seeing God’s creation laid out in front of us. ‘The earth is full of thy riches.’ How anyone can look at this natural order and not see the Maker’s hand, I’ll never comprehend.”

“God wants me broken and miserable?” She shook her head. “I don’t think I’d go that far, Ford, but when we’re weak He is strong. It’s in His strength that we find victory.”

Picked Off–vegan running a goat dairy

Picked Off

by Linda Lovely

Picked OffI enjoyed Picked Off, a cozy mystery by Linda Lovely, but I didn’t love it and I didn’t think it was as good as the first book in the series.

On the positive side, it has an interesting plot, likable characters and appropriate injections of humor. In fact, there is an exciting escape scene that is as funny as all get out! It’s worth reading the book just to experience that piece of writing. There are lots of fun, folksy figures of speech to roll off the tongue and stir the imagination. 

On the negative side, Brie, who is helping her Aunt Eva with Udderly Kidding Dairy, is as enmeshed as ever in her attractions to Paint and Andy who are best friends to each other. The irony of a vegan who runs a dairy farm and engages in cheese and meat curses is lost on no one and remains amusing in the second book. The romantic triangle, however, is losing its appeal. Brie, along with the author, appears stuck on the fence. My other criticism is that there were a few loose ends that did not get tied up. I am especially interested in the missing backpack containing evidential video footage. It seems to have dropped off the radar.

The basic plot is interesting: Carol Strong is campaigning for South Carolina governor and her son, football star Zack, is attacked during a Halloween themed rally for her benefit. There is more mayhem, lots of entanglements, and plenty of folks to accuse. Imagine trying to identify suspects when most guests are wearing masks.  Brie, her friend Mollye, and Aunt Eva find themselves overly and dangerously involved, but the reader benefits by enjoying the plot’s development.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Brie Hooker Mystery Series

Publication:  June 5, 2018—Henery Press

Memorable Lines:

My nerves jangled. Who could blame me? Yesterday’s assault would have scared the beans out of a bowl of chili.

Eva returned around lunch time, exhausted. Airlines could assess a surcharge for the size of the bags under her eyes.

…we were more out of our depth than a vegan at a wienie roast.

Class Reunions are Murder–attending could be a mistake

Class Reunions are Murder

Class Reunions are Murder

Welcome to a new series by Libby Klein that starts out with a great cozy mystery Class Reunions are Murder. As we meet the very likable Poppy McAllister, she is eating her way through grief and talking to her quirky, ever-present cat Figaro. Her life changes when she is convinced by her best friend Sawyer to join her in attending their high school reunion; she decides to combine that trip with a long overdue visit with her Aunt Ginny.

Klein does a good job of writing humorous dialogue that includes what Poppy is thinking as well as saying. Poppy is accused of a crime and needs to prove herself innocent while dealing with the deteriorating state of the home she was raised in and possibly of her Aunt Ginny. Although a cozy mystery, the book also deals with serious themes of bullying, aging, and second chances in life. I’m looking forward to reading about the next phase of Poppy’s life.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery

Notes: Paleo recipes are included at the back of the book.

Publication:   January 30, 2018—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

I was praying either for a house to fall on Georgina or the Rapture to take place. God’s choice.

I hoped Aunt Ginny didn’t organize another fashion intervention for me. Aunt Ginny means well, but she has all the subtlety of a marching band in a cemetery.

“And I figured I’m getting old so I may as well make the most of the time I have left. So I decided convention be darned. I’m gonna dress however I please and I’m gonna do what I want when I want. At my age I’ve earned the right to do it…”

The Stepchild–does the past really stay in the past?

The Stepchild

by Joanne Fluke

The StepchildIf you are a fan of Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen cooking mysteries, you will be surprised and possibly disappointed by The Stepchild. I know Fluke has a huge following for the Hannah Swensen Mystery Series. I found the one I read too syrupy sweet with the emphasis on the personal lives of flat characters and their recipes.

The Stepchild is a completely different type of book. I would classify it as a psychological thriller. It begins with a prologue that focuses on two dramatic events. Then the scene fast forwards to describe the sudden problems of Kathi Ellison whose father is only a few weeks away from becoming a senator. There is a life changing secret in Kathi’s past that even Kathi does not know about.

Three quarters of the way through the book I almost stopped reading it because of what appears to be a strong paranormal aspect. I am glad I continued on to the end as the story progresses in a different and unexpected direction with surprising implications. The Stepchild is an unsettling read, but a good one.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Kensington Books for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery & Thriller

Publication: July 25,2017—Kensington Books

Memorable Lines:

To succeed in political circles he had to give up something, the same as in everything else. In the city you had to give up nature, in a marriage you had to give up privacy, and in politics you had to give up little pieces of yourself, carefully doled out in meetings and speeches, making your life smaller with each passing encounter. It was almost like bleeding, and Doug sometimes wondered what would happen when he was bled dry.

Now that she was awake, sleep eluded her like a fickle lover, tempting her by making her body warm and drowsy, but forcing her eyes to open.

And now, in the late fall, the leaves were swirling in the wind, blowing up against the wooden snow fences, gathering in piles. She could see the woods by the side of the narrow road, the carpet of fallen leaves and the lovely, deep darkness behind the bordering trees.

McNamara’s Folly: the Use of Low-IQ Troops in the Vietnam War

by Hamilton Gregory

This is a fascinating presentation by Hamilton Gregory (author, public speaker, educator, and journalist) at a college book signing for a book he wrote about using low-IQ soldiers in war. He draws on his own experiences in the Vietnam War as well as extensive research. His goal is to give a voice to those who were not able to speak up for themselves and to their families whose warnings were not heeded. In the prologue he says:

“While I was in the Army (1967-1970), I got to know some of McNamara’s substandard soldiers, and I vowed that someday I would tell their stories and give the historical background. This book is the fulfillment of that vow.”

Rating: 5/5

Category: Military History

Notes: Hamilton Gregory is my brother. I am aware that current protocol for reviewers is that they should not review the works of relatives. I, however, do no advertising and I make no money from this blog. I am retired, and this blog is my personal space for reflection on education and on books. I feel strongly that this is an excellent book and tells a tale that needs to be shared. I do highly recommend that you read it. You don’t have to be interested in military history; you just have to care about people. For official reviews and recommendations, I suggest you visit Amazon.com where people who are experienced experts in the field and are more qualified than I am have posted reviews. From my non-military viewpoint, I am amazed at the way the author intertwines data with the stories he gathered to make a compelling argument that our country should never let this happen again.

mcnamaras-follyPublication:  Infinity Publishing–June 2015

Memorable Lines:  “Freddie’s death hit me hard.  I remembered how he was always sighing–an indication of the tremendous anxiety he experienced in Special Training.  I remembered how he lacked the mental quickness to qualify with the M-14 rifle. I felt enormous anger, which I still feel decades later.  He never should have been drafted.  He never should have been ‘administratively passed’ at Special Training.  He never should have been sent into combat.”

 

Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education?

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I have tried to stay away from anything that smacks of politics on social media during this election cycle. There is just so much negativity I can let into my life. I followed the issues. I voted. Now we are presented with an appointment that might unite the left and the right because parents, teachers, students, and many others are concerned about the state of education–the overtesting, Common Core State Standards, evaluations based on testing, and ridiculous administrative mandates.

I have done some research on Betsy DeVos and there is much I could say. Today I just want to focus on two things. First, her words. In a video I watched she made two very telling statements about initiatives she supports:

“[they] will empower educational entrepreneurs.”

“entrepreneurial spirit will prevail even in the industry of education.”

I find it troubling that she wants to empower an entrepreneurial spirit to prevail in education.  Big business is trying to take over education for their own profit and to dumb down the 99% so we are not educated enough to stand up for our constitutional rights. We need to get big business out of education.  The accumulating of wealth and warming a seat in the classroom do not qualify one to make educational decisions.

Even more troubling is the use of “industry” and “education” in the same sentence.  Our schools should not be industries; we should not make a profit off of them or produce worker bees for the powerful in our society. We are nurturing growing minds and bodies, and we should be creating opportunities for independent thinking–not that of the right or the left, independent. The goal of our efforts should be citizens with a moral and ethical compass who can find satisfying ways of supporting themselves and their families.

Second, her actions. These “education advocates” like DeVos are big money, big business people, and you can be sure that they have their own bottom line in sight with every decision. DeVos says she does not support Common Core. Just take a look at Jeb Bush’s pet project that she has been involved in for so many years as a board member and “education advocate”: ExcelinEd common core “toolkit.”

I retired after 34 years of teaching in the midst of this kind of nonsense, and I saw and experienced first hand the devastating effects it has on learning, creativity, and morale of students and teachers. Why would we continue down this same path, sacrificing our children, to line the pockets of the 1%?

The Candidate–Echoes of today’s political climate and THEN…

The Candidate

by Lis Wiehl

the-candidateI read The Candidate with about twenty days left until the U.S. presidential election of 2016. As I began the book, there were certainly echoes of today’s political climate and I feared for a lack of originality.  I am pleased to say that the storyline quickly deviated into a very riveting, original plot while maintaining a theme of potential world domination that reflects the very real fears that many harbor today.

The main character is a top journalist with her own show, The Erica Sparks Effect. The author of The Candidate, Lis Wiehl, is a  lawyer as well as a legal analyst appearing on many TV shows as a commentator. She brings authenticity to her novel.  I admit going into the book with a bias against the media; there seems to be little integrity in the field today, little honest reporting. Those hired as “reporters” seem determined to opine outside the confines of an editorial piece. The fictional Erica Sparks, however, is different and refreshing. She sees her job as reporting the news, not making it or persuading others to view events through her political lens.

When some oddities appear in one presidential candidate’s campaign, she risks her life to discover the truth that could affect the nation and the world.  Even as she is immersed in these events, the private side of Erica Sparks is revealed as we see her struggle with balancing the work she thrives on with her desires to be a great mom to the daughter she adores.  She also has to work through feelings for Greg with whom she is trying to maintain a long distance relationship.

I recommend The Candidate. It has lots of twists and turns in the plot, a likable and well-developed main character, suspense, and political intrigue.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Thomas Nelson for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

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