Saturday, December 15, 2018

Past Tense (Jack Reacher, #23)Past Tense by Lee Child
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Once again, Jack Reacher is drawn into a highly improbable scenario that lets him be the capeless superhero, coming in to save the day.

I've enjoyed the series overall, but some of the scenarios Lee Child uses are truly eyeroll-inducing. Even if Reacher comes across as a nearly-omniscient superhero-cop in the ones where we're looking back at his Military Police days, at least those make more sense in terms of how he comes to be involved in various unusual scenarios.

In Past Tense, there's a truly evil ploy going on. That and his coming to the rescue of a random person in a small New England town both drive the tension of this book, such as it is. The evil plot's setup is too drawn out, considering how little connection/empathy is created with the intended victims of the plot. Given his history and the relative incompetence of his adversaries, there's not much question how all of this will turn out.

There's still satisfaction in Jack Reacher taking out the bad guys, but the odds of his once again stumbling into a one-in-a-million evil plot really stretches credulity. I'm hoping future books either are more focused on his MP days or somehow draw him back into law enforcement. This country has its issues--as all countries do--but I'm thankful there aren't extraordinarily sinister plots around every corner as Jack Reacher's travels would have one think!


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Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Book Review: Lawrence in Arabia

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle EastLawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East tells the story of T.E. Lawrence, known to most of us from the sweeping classic film, Lawrence of Arabia. The book also provides insight into the Middle East situation during World War I, the various players involved in the machinations of the day, and the imperial ambitions of European countries that helped further undermine any chance the Middle East ever had for peace and normalcy.

T.E. Lawrence certainly was an unlikely person to play the role he did. With no military background or training, he backed into wearing a British uniform. Then, through audacity and a gift for bureaucratic duplicity, he became a key figure in working with Arab leadership as the British pursued their imperial dreams while fighting a war that was unprecedented in its brutality.

It's also fascinating to see the attitudes of the imperial powers--and here, the French are painted in a particularly bad light--towards the Middle Eastern lands. They had no valid claim to any of these lands, and yet they made plans to simply take and keep them, exercising jurisdiction over them as if they had any right to do so.

The actions of these European countries didn't help an already-difficult situation, with different tribes and leaders vying for dominance. The author also notes that whatever chance there might have been for peace between the Arabs and the Jews certainly was severely undermined by these imperial maneuverings. True, lasting peace might have been unlikely, particularly when dealing with groups like Ibn Saud's followers, who were adherents to the Wahhabi sect of Islam. Nevertheless, Britain and France, and the famous Sykes-Picot Agreement served only to pour gasoline on a smoldering fire.

T.E. Lawrence was himself an interesting figure whose prominence is based on a combination of his character, a fair helping of dumb luck and a big budget movie (he was known in Britain, certainly, prior to the film, but the film rocketed his recognition into the stratosphere), but Lawrence in Arabia is more interesting for the overview of all the different players and how what seemed like a sideshow to World War I made a lasting impact, for better or worse, on a region that continues to be of strategic importance to this very day.


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Saturday, May 26, 2018

Oh, Lexi

Our girl has been bad a number of times lately. When Tucker arrived, he came with lots of toys, beds, blankies, all kinds of things. His late mom loved him and bought him all sorts of stuff. Well, we have taken our time getting his stuff put away or tossed out. (He seems to have no interest in the toys. We've tried.)

To be fair (to ourselves!), we have been moving a lot of it out, but some remained at one end of the dining room table. Unfortunately, any amount of Tucker's stuff up there offends Lexi. We went plant shopping today, and when we got back, we found that she'd been on the dining room table, where she found a brush of his. She chewed that. She also managed to tear up all sorts of our stuff that was on there and scatter debris around the entire dining area. I guess she decided we needed punishment.

She'd already had periods where she got crated when we went out, but I kept giving her another chance. At this point, Marc says she'll be crated when we're out until she's a little old hound, hobbling around with a walker! (I give it a couple of weeks.)  ;-)

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A book review: Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden

Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and PurposePromise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose by Joe Biden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I usually tend to steer clear of sad stories. I feel like I've had enough pain and loss in my own life, so why latch onto someone else's? But something about Promise Me, Dad and what I'd read from prior reviews drew me to it. Also, I think Joe Biden is a good, kind-hearted, caring public servant, and I was interested for that reason, as well.

The pain of loss encapsulated in Promise Me, Dad comes as no surprise to anyone who reads the news. Joe Biden lost his son, Beau, to an aggressive brain cancer known as glioblastoma. Despite aggressive, cutting edge treatment, Beau slowly lost a painful battle. This book recounts that battle, as well as the way the Biden family pulled together, supporting each other while doing their best to protect Beau's privacy and dignity. It's also a remembrance of family history and cohesion, as well as a recounting of the support they received from so many, including President Obama.

Interspersed with the story of Beau Biden's cancer battle, and his family's agony as they watched it unfold, is a look inside the top-level politics Joe Biden was engaged in, from legislative history to his deep involvement in international affairs. This well-written and deeply personal book did something few books can; it made me cry. The genuine feeling of it tapped into my own emotions of loss. As things progressed, I found myself hoping for a surprise happy ending, despite knowing how things really did end. It was that level of connection and feeling.

I can see how some readers might not want to go along on this particular ride. As I said above, I often steer clear of such things. But if you don't mind the sadness interwoven within this story, it's a story well told about good people who have made it through a lot while still focusing on how they can make the world I better place. It's worth reading!


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Monday, January 15, 2018

Let Me Tell You About My Best Friend


I've very lucky. I met this man, dated him and had the good fortune to marry him. Now let me tell you something about him. He has the biggest heart you can imagine!

When Marc was growing up, his best friend was a kid named Richard. They met when they were 6 years old, and they developed a bond that time and distance couldn't break. Over the years, they wound up in different parts of the country and Richard wasn't good about keeping in touch when he moved away, but that didn't change Marc's concern for him.

Richard developed health problems, and I remember Marc worrying about him in the early days of my being with Marc, so that's over 20 years ago. But Richard did his own thing, and Marc only got updates from mutual friends who heard from other friends and so on.

Then in 2016, one of their friends from school days, Anne, called Marc. Anne is a saint, and she'd been helping Richard, trying to get him over health issues and get him back on his feet again. Richard didn't make it easy for her, but that's another story. She worked hard, just because she wanted to help a friend.

So Anne called to say that Richard was in rough shape, but while she was helping to arrange his care, advocate for him, help him in all sorts of ways, he mentioned that the thing that would make him so happy was if he could see his childhood friend, Marc.

Now, bear in mind, Richard was saying this as he was lying in a nursing home, where they were trying to rehab him after a hospital stay. A nursing home about 1,400 miles away in Wichita, Kansas. I guess Richard was hoping Marc would talk to him on the phone. In fact, that was the other part, that Anne said Richard asked if he could have Marc's phone number to reconnect. Of course, Marc said yes. The circumstances weren't ideal, but Marc was happy to reconnect with his old friend.

Marc thought about it very briefly and then declared, "I have to go see him." His old friend was sick and said it would brighten his day if he could see Marc, so Marc was dropping everything, taking time off work and getting on a plane on short notice to go see an old friend who was sick, just because his friend mentioned how nice it would be to see him.

So Marc got out there to see Richard. They talked, and Marc encouraged him to work hard to get back on his feet. He told him how, once he felt better, he could come to New York and we'd give him the grand tour. Afterwards, Anne told Marc that helped immensely, and, in time, Richard got out of the nursing home and was working to move forward.

Unfortunately, he took a fall several months ago, and he was back in the hospital and then the nursing home again. When we went out there for Marc's school reunion a few months ago, we went to visit him. He was still in rehab. On top of wanting to see Marc, Richard wanted to meet Marc's husband whom Richard had declared to be "a very lucky man." He was right. I am very lucky!

So we went and spent time talking to Richard. Marc encouraged him to work on his rehab, as he was somewhat reluctant at that point, and they still talked about what the future could hold, trying to keep a hopeful view of everything.

Today, Marc called me from work in tears. Richard's brother had called. Richard died today.

It wasn't really unexpected, as he wasn't doing at all well this time, but it doesn't change the fact that Marc is devastated. And, of course, I'm upset for him.

But look at the love he brought to his friend. Someone who went his own way decades ago says, in essence, "You know, I wish I could see my childhood friend, Marc," and my husband turns into a one-man Make-A-Wish Foundation. That's how he is. Off he went! How many people would do that? So this is a sad day, but I'm focused on how Marc made a sick friend's life better. We all go eventually, but it's a real gift when you have someone so caring in your life!


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Ready for a break!

"A break? You're unemployed, Jess! A break from what?"

Yeah, well... I have my stress! Being unemployed is daily pressure. Plus, I've been working on drumming up business for my HR consulting practice. I might have a nibble or two on that front and a real client, where I can help a new business grow. I love being a part of that! I'm also picking up a little legal work when I can.

Anyhow, we're heading south later this week. First going to see some family and then on to Savannah. I can't wait! Some quality time--including romantic time--with my husband, and we'll also get to see some good friends!

The only downside is that Lexi has to go to her "pet resort," but I think she just aims her guilt ray at me for her own entertainment. When she's there, she has a ball. (She should, for what it costs!) ;-)

I love the photos of her from playgroups. For example...


Look at that happy girl!

Still, as much as our doggies always are family to us, it's not easy leaving her there. But we'll all be happy when we're reunited!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

A quick, easy read, and an important piece of history: Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBIKillers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's rare that I find a work of non-fiction to be an easy read, but Killers of the Flower Moon flowed well while telling an important story of a great injustice that was new to me. In the early 20th Century, the Osage Indians, who had been pushed onto land in Oklahoma (just as so many Native Americans had been displaced and moved to lands not of their choosing), found that their land sat over large oil deposits.

Much to the chagrin of white people, this made the Osage quite wealthy. Sadly, blatant notions of white supremacy had the government and its citizens doing everything they could to disenfranchise the Osage, including routinely having perfectly competent adults declared incompetent, so white "guardians" could be appointed; those guardians then free to steal Osage money.

But for some, that wasn't enough. The Osage were being murdered at a staggering pace by people who had set up underhanded arrangements, through marriage, insurance policies and other means to steer Osage wealth into white hands. The indifference to the murders that underpinned these schemes was shockingly blatant, but nothing really was being done until the precursor of the FBI got involved.

With glimpses of the sociopathic madness that we'd eventually learn drove the actions of J. Edgar Hoover, he pulled the strings of an investigation that eventually curtailed the ongoing murders. The real heroes are no-nonsense lawmen who worked in the Osage Nation on behalf of the Bureau of Investigation (the FBI's name at the time). That didn't end all of the killings, as some have clearly gone unsolved and went well beyond the more commonly known reign of terror, but the federal involvement at least seemed to stop the worst of it.

Killers of the Flower Moon is a quick read, likely because of the writing skill of David Grann, its author and a veteran of The New Yorker, and it's an important piece of American history. I highly recommend this book!


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